Many expected the state’s economy, battered by COVID-19, to be the focus of this year’s legislative session. And it will be.
But lawmakers have their eyes on other areas as well -- especially social and criminal justice.
Members of the Assembly and Senate hope to address issues such as maintaining employment for immigrants, scratching slavery from the state constitution and mandating minimum wage for prison inmates.
Dina Neal is a Nevada state senator who is the primary sponsor of many social justice bills.
“The system will be challenged, but I think we need to ask ourselves what is the greater good going on.”
Five bills addressing evictions:
Laura Martin, executive director, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada:
"I think the system is set up against tenants. There is a huge imbalance of power between landlords and tenants. Property owners and landlords can charge weird fees. We're learning that people are being charged for using the lightbulbs in the apartment or using a microwave. There is a bill to address that."
Martin also said there is a bill to address renting to pet owners and the rules that some landlords put up around having pets in a rental property.
She said many of the issues that lawmakers are now trying to address have come to the surface because of the pandemic and the eviction moratorium that has been put into place.
"Thankfully, the Legislature is really stepping up and saying, 'We can't have this. This is no longer going between a property owner's rights, this is taking advantage of somebody in a desperate situation," she said.
There are bills that address equal rights for women:
AB 124 deals with the Nevada Pay Equity Act. It would, in part, better ensure women are not discriminated against in promotions and wages. AB 224 would require middle and high schools to place free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms. And SB 190 would no longer require a doctor’s approval for birth control pills.
The Nevada Legislature is a female majority legislative body, but Martin notes not all women have the same priorities.
"Despite it being majority women, it may still have been hard to pass what I would say is common-sense practices," she said.
On why social and criminal justice reforms are getting traction now:
Neal: “I think the environment has allowed for us to talk about racial justice. I think we were in an environment for the past four years where it really made us question equality and where we stand as a state and as a nation.”
Martin: "Years ago, I've sat in rooms with people in the legislature and been told, 'These are good ideas, but it makes me look soft on crime' and now these ideas are now their priority. That doesn't just come from one person complaining about it. It's community organizing. It's building a narrative. It's building a base and making sure that people know this is not being soft on crime, it's being for the humanity of people and understanding that our injustice system does not rehabilitate. It breaks families. It breaks people."
Dina Neal, state senator; Laura Martin, executive director, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.