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Money, Guns And Schools: Nevada's New Laws And The Ideas That Died

After four months of work, the Nevada State Legislature wrapped up its session Monday.

Lawmakers passed hundreds of bills, addressing everything from the school funding formula to gun control to campaign finance and criminal justice reform.

Warren Hardy is a lobbyist and a former Republican State Senator. He said above all else that was passed and signed into law this year the bill that allows state employees to collectively bargain will have the biggest long-term impact.

He said the issue has been talked about for years but never went anywhere because of how much it will cost.

Supporters argue the fiscal note on the bill is so high because state workers are so underpaid, allowing them to collectively bargain is the only way to raise their wages.

And while Hardy generally disagrees with the idea of collective bargaining, he doesn't disagree that the issue needed to be addressed  - finally.

"We suffer because of that," he said, "We got to do one of two things: we got to give them right to collectively bargain or we've got to fund them better because it costs the state in the long term. It's penny wise and pound foolish... we're training people and they're moving on to better-paying jobs."  

Under the provision signed by Gov. Sisolak, state employees will be allowed to collectively bargain but the governor will have oversight of the bargain so it fits within the state budget.

Support comes from

However, Hardy believes when there is a surplus year that oversight will likely be eliminated.

While a state surplus will come at some point in the future, Hardy doesn't believe next year will be that year.

In fact, he's convinced the state is heading for a $500 million to $1 billion shortfall because of decisions made in this session. He said some of the ways lawmakers came up with to pay for school funding and other elements of the budget will need money.

"Those kinds of - I'm going to call them schemes that might not be fair- to try to balance this budget going forward, they have got to be paid for at some point," he said.

He's hoping the economy continues to improve.

Former independent state senator Patricia Farley agreed with Hardy that the state is likely to see a shortfall in funding. 

Everything comes with a price tag she pointed out and the Legislature didn't address the funding structure for the state, which she says comes from just a few small to medium-sized business, not from larger corporations and mining operations, which benefit from tax breaks and abatements.

Farley said the state needs to address the funding long term.

"I think most people particularly business people I know aren't against paying taxes," she said, "We want nice communities. We want good schools. We want to help the mental health, the elderly, all these things but it has to be a thoughtful plan of long term, how are we going to pay for these things." 

Farley said everyone wants nice things but no one seems to want to pay for it. 

EDUCATION FUNDING

One of the biggest structural changes that did happen this year will change the state's school funding formula but the changes aren't immediate, according to Steve Sebelius, the politics and government editor at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"The new funding plan isn't going to go into effect right away," he said, "We're not going to see any immediate changes."

Sebelius said the new plan will run parallel with the current funding formula as a way to see where the money will go under the changes, allowing lawmakers to tweak the plan in the future.

Most everyone agreed that it was time to change the funding formula, which was created in the 60s and did not meet the needs of modern Nevada and the more diverse student population of the state.

Sebelius explained the main thrust of the changes is that money will follow the student.

"This funding plan is good in the sense that the funding will follow students as opposed to just broad categories," he said, "We had the Zoom category and the Victory category and whole schools got additional funding for that. This funding will be more attenuated to individual students and what they're doing."

Farley is also pleased that the funding formula was changed. She believes the Legislature is headed in the right direction when it comes to funding for schools.

She agrees with Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara who says Nevada students are competing with students from other states that are appropriately funding education, putting our students at a disadvantage.

"When we get done with high school, we are sending our children out to compete in a world where we have not funded their education and made sure their education was appropriate," she said.

POPULAR VOTE AND THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

One thing about the session that surprised some people is Gov. Sisolak's veto of a bill that would have given all of Nevada's electoral college delegates to the winner of the popular vote in a presidential election.

A caller asked who the governor "was carrying water for," with that veto.

‘"I think the governor was carrying Nevada’s water," Hardy said.

While it has been a popular issue among the Democratic base and there has been a lot of pressure to make that change, Hardy believes Sisolak did a good job going against that pressure.

Hardy pointed out that the problem with giving electoral college delegates to the winner of the popular vote is that larger states, especially those on the East Coast will have the biggest say in elections and smaller states like Nevada will be ignored.

Sebelius agreed with Hardy's assessment of the issue.

"The caller makes a good point but an even better point was made in opposition to that," he said, "A candidate could win the votes of Nevada -overwhelmingly - and if another candidate, a different candidate won the popular vote nationwide then Nevada's 80 - 90 percent majority wouldn't matter."

FEMALE MAJORITY

This year's legislative session made history because it was the first in the nation to have a majority of female lawmakers. 

Patricia Farley said there may not have been big changes in what was discussed because most lawmakers were women but she believes the tone was different.

"The conversation is different. The tone is different," she said, "I think in the years to come if we're able to hold the majority and/or just increase membership we've changed the conversation or at least the way its being had up in Carson City and for me, I think that's huge."

Sebelius agreed that the tone of the debate was different with female committee leaders, even in one of the most contentious discussions.

"I thought, for example, Senator [Nicole] Cannizzaro, during the gun control debate, which was a very contentious debate handled that hearing very well," he said, "All sides were heard. Everybody got their perspective on the record. The bill didn't come out the way some people wanted but I don't think anybody left that hearing thinking that they had been shut down or ignored or that they weren't allowed to express their views."

GUN CONTROL LAWS

Some those new gun control laws that were passed include universal background check, which was approved by voters but never implemented. 

There is also a ban on bump stocks, which allows a firearm to fire almost like an automatic weapon. The device was used by the shooter in the Oct. 1, 2017 massacre on the Las Vegas Strip.

One of the most controversial changes to Nevada gun laws is the so-called 'red flag' law, which allows a family member or law enforcement officer to petition a judge to have someone's guns taken away - if that person is determined to be a threat to themselves or someone else.

While Sebelius is a supporter of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, he does believe this type of law might actually do what it is designed to do - prevent gun violence.

"Often times you hear, 'well, banning bump stocks that wouldn't have stopped this particular shooting, or background checks wouldn't have stopped this particular thing," he said, "These red flag laws actually might prevent a mass shooting tragedy." 

Farley agreed.

She said the new law could be particularly helpful when it comes to domestic violence.

"You hear case after case after case... where somebody gets shot and killed and you could see it coming," she said, "But she couldn't get a restraining order because they hadn't crossed that line yet." 

Guests

Patricia Farley, former Independent state senator; Warren Hardy, lobbyist/former Republican state senator; Steve Sebelius, politics/government editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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