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Despite COVID-19 Case, Legislators Return To Special Session

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(David Calvert/The Nevada Independent via AP, Pool)

Nevada State Senators inside the Senate chambers on the third day of the 31st Special Session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Friday, July 10, 2020. Someone who works in the Nevada legislative building has tested positive for the coronavirus as lawmakers debate emergency measures involving the pandemic, an official said Friday.

Dueling protests, big, big cuts in education and Nevada’s mining industry's low-tax status are all on the agenda as lawmakers in Carson City continue the special session.

In addition to all of that, someone working in the Legislature Building tested positive for COVID-19, which is slowing things down.

Facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, state lawmakers are looking everywhere to balance the budget. Monday marks the fifth day of the special session.

Last week's special session went only for a few days but they were busy days.

On Friday, someone in the building tested positive for COVID-19. They’re not saying whether it was a legislator, but that led to the Assembly cutting its agenda short.  

And of course, Governor Steve Sisolak re-imposed Phase One restrictions on bars based on recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.  

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Legislators have been going over the governor’s proposed budget cuts since Wednesday.

They took a day off Sunday, but most of their time has been spent listening to presentations from state department heads about what these cuts will do.

Some of the proposed cuts are really deep. For example, Sisolak’s plan would cut funding for the Read by Grade 3 program and SB178, which provides extra money to help close the achievement gap among underserved students.

Overall, K through 12 education will see $166 million in reductions.

That is causing pushback. There was a group of teachers protesting education cuts outside the legislative building on Wednesday. They say those cuts will hit low-income students and students of color the hardest. 

Education advocates also say Nevada still hasn’t restored services it lost during the Greate Recession. 

“Taking cuts from education right now is not the way to go, because we are already at the bottom. And what we have seen is that once the money is cut, it’s nearly impossible to get back,” said Elizabeth Cadigan, a music teacher from Washoe County School District.

Progressives have really been pushing for the state to raise revenue, especially from the mining industry.

However, it would be pretty tough to raise the mining’s overall tax rate, because it’s capped at 5 percent in the state Constitution.

On Saturday, senators heard a presentation about the tax deductions mining gets on top of the cap. If lawmakers canceled some of those deductions, it could be one way to see more revenue from the industry.

Tax incentives for the mining industry aren’t the only tax incentives on the table. Some lawmakers say the Legislature should roll back some of the tax incentives given to corporations.

One example is the $1.3 billion in tax incentives Tesla got for building its Gigafactory in Northern Nevada. That is a little more than the total budget shortfall the state is facing for the next fiscal year.

To get those earmarked rollbacks, Tesla has to meet certain goals.

Another thing Democrats have been talking about is the need for more federal coronavirus aid. The funding the state has received so far is explicitly not supposed to go toward covering state budget shortfalls.

It can only use it for programs that are related to pandemic response.  

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said Thursday that lawmakers learned how important that federal aid can be during the recession. 

“We received CARES Act dollars and… I think that it’s important now that we continue to press the United States Senate to get more dollars to the states,” Frierson said, “I think that’s what’s different, I think we’ve learned in the past that we couldn’t do it on our own when you have a pandemic like this.” 

Revenue streams weren’t the only thing on the minds of lawmakers. On Saturdaythere was a Black Lives Matter event and a pro-Trump, anti-shutdown demonstration going on in Carson City. What was interesting was people from both groups opposed some of the proposed cuts. 

Nivea Bogart was there with her church, which was one of the conservative groups. They were flying a Three Percenters militia flag.

She said the state government should maintain public health funding right now. 

“I think that we should be supporting our medical community and medical services to people that may not be able to pay for their own services, especially right now,” Bogart said.

Legislative leaders have said the big funding bill – the one that will make all these cuts – isn’t ready for a vote yet

But once the new budget is done, lawmakers might go straight into another special session to address police reform.

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