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Police Reform, Election, COVID-19: Big Questions Face Nevada Lawmakers

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(AP Photo/Samuel Metz, File)

In this Wednesday, June 24, 2020, file photo, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak exits a news conference at the Nevada State Legislature in Carson City, Nev.

Nevada is now four months into the fight against the coronavirus.

Monday night, Gov. Steve Sisolak unveiled a new strategy for reopening the economy as more cases of the coronavirus are reported in the state.

Under the new plan, the governor's office and health officials will give a more detailed reopening strategy for businesses and municipalities instead of broad guidelines.

While the governor has received praise from many people about how he handled the lockdown, there are plenty of critics who have pointed to missteps and mistakes by the state government.

The Supreme Court just ruled against a Nevada church that wanted to allow more than 50 people per service. The church argued casinos get more respect than religious services. 

Then there’s the failure of the state unemployment system, where two directors have quit since COVID-19.

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Some people still aren’t getting checks; and there may be millions in payouts going to fraudulent accounts. 

Coronavirus and its fallout are just the beginning of the problems the state needs to tackle.

The governor is expected to call for another special session with election reform, police reform and how to keep businesses alive during the pandemic all on the to-do list.

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS:

Unemployment insurance problems:

Jon Ralston: The unemployment insurance debacle has been a real albatross for governor. This problem in the state goes way back. It’s more than just understaffing and a lack of responsiveness. People are desperate. This has crushed the economy.

There is no law that is suddenly going to fix this. You can’t just pass a law and this will be fixed. You need to be able to hire a lot more people. You need to does this in a better manner, in a less bureaucratic manner.

The real problem that has come to light now in reporting by several news organizations is the problem with fraud. There is a huge problem in this state with fraudulent claims. Is it tens of thousands? Is it more than that? That’s unclear too.

You need more bodies. You need more efficient execution of the claims process. They can’t fix this in a special session. It’s going to take money. It’s going to take more efficiencies, but I just don’t think it’s going to be “fixed” anytime soon.

Warren Hardy: No system like that is set up, currently, and it’s not just Nevada, it’s across the country. No system is set up for the kind of catastrophic situation we’ve had. It’s going to take systemic changes and I think trying to accomplish that in a special session of the Legislature is very difficult.

These are weighty issues that are going to take systemic changes and it’s very difficult to do that in a special session. And I think it’s fraught with political peril to make the case that you can do it in a special session. These things need to be fully vetted, fully debated.

On the special session:

Sondra Cosgrove: So, something that I noticed with this special session is that it seemed very different from the last couple special sessions that we had, specifically looking at the Tesla special session and the stadium special session.

From day one… we got reports. We could see what deliberation had happened. It seems like there had been a lot of planning going on beforehand and then all the planning and deliberation came out into the public.

I didn’t see that we had a lot of opportunities to understand the deliberation and the processes that were going into the decisions in the last special session.

We were all hoping they would call the Committee of the Whole into session and then these bills were coming out with not a lot explanation on the process or deliberation that led us there.

I know that made me and other members of the public nervous. I think it was making some legislators upset and nervous. If that’s the way the next special session is going to run – and I don’t know – I don’t see how you do anything big when everything is happening behind closed doors and then all of a sudden getting dropped on people and we don’t know how to react.

Ralston: It is very disappointing because there are some very, very good people up there with a lot of potential to be great leaders but there was not great leadership shown during that session.

By the time, they finally left after 12 days I think the governor, who has never really picked up on how the Legislature really works… he really doesn’t want to have to deal with them as most governor’s do but Steve Sisolak really doesn’t want to have to deal with them. That’s been a problem even though they’re the same party.

The Republicans can make noises but they don’t amount to much more than squeaks. This is the Democrats' budget. This is the Democrats' mess – if there is one. They have to solve it and there was no evidence in that last session that they’ve done the necessary spadework to really solve this issue or any of the issues that are about to come up in the second special session.

On mining taxes:

Ralston: The Legislature and the governor did not do what they should have done on the mining tax issue and other issues, which is talk to each other before the session. Get some sense of where they all wanted to go. There was no planning done at all.

I have serious questions… of whether a special session of the Legislature is the right time to take on taxing any industry during a pandemic and a terrible recession.

But I’ve been writing that mining should be taxed more for decades. It is very complicated.

Hardy: The mining tax was never going to pass. And I think the way the governor responded and reacted to that is an indication that he was concerned about that progressive wing of his party. To say, ‘well, I’ll consider it,’ knowing full well that he had to understand it wasn’t going to pass in that scenario.

You’ve got to put it on the agenda in order to satisfy your base but whether or not you can actually get it done in a special session is suspect.

I think some of the things that occurred last special session were a function of the fact that they were leaving them on the agenda, open for discussion because they’re dealing with that far-left, progressive part of their base.  

Police reforms:

Cosgrove: What I’m hoping is that they’re going to go after some low-hanging fruit. And the low-hanging fruit when we look at justice reform… is decriminalizing mental illness.

The police departments are on board with this too. They’re not trained clinicians. They would love to have social workers going out to mental health crisis calls and not them.

That’s the only illness that we call the police to come handle. We don’t do that with any other illness.

Rules on re-opening:

Ralston: Of course, the casino industry has disproportionate influence; however, this is a very difficult decision for a governor to make in the sense that if you close the casinos again the economy, which is still way too dependent on the gaming industry… you are going to crush the economy may be beyond repair.

The governor surely had to consider that as well. Did he open the casinos too soon? Was he too lax with mandating masks inside casinos as well? Maybe – but closing the casinos again now would be an utter economic disaster that I don’t think this state could recover from for a long, long time.

On Nevada joining a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s executive order eliminating undocumented immigrants from Census data:

Hardy: I think Nevada has a larger population of undocumented immigrants than any state. So, I think, potentially, for a state like Nevada, it’s significant. I don’t think we’re ones that would be slated to lose a congressional seat if this were upheld but, certainly, anytime the count for a small state like Nevada is impacted it has the potential to impact our representation in Congress.

I just have never seen a president so concerned with his base. I think he’s stronger with his base than most presidents yet he continues to do things like this that are clearly designed just to win points with the base.

This strategy that he’s got of appealing and pandering to that base I think has a potential to really backfire on him in November because he’s just not doing anything to go after the center, middle-of-the-road voters that are the ones that decide elections.

 

 

Guests

Warren Hardy, a lobbyist and former Republican state senator; Sondra Cosgrove, president, Nevada League of Women Voters; Jon Ralston, publisher, Nevada Independent. 

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