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Winners, Losers And Game Changers: A Legislative Roundup

Casey Morell

Solar power appeared to win big this legislative session—but how much did they really lose after the 2015 session?

Jon Ralston, founder and publisher of The Nevada Independent online website, said support for net metering and other solar initiatives is a testament to the power of the solar industry’s strong public relations campaign after 2015.

Some other winners this session were state workers, who got modest bumps in pay at the last minute, and UNLV’s new medical school, which got a $25 million matching gift from an anonymous donor.

Megan Messerly, a reporter for the Independent, said ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, took a hit as drivers will now be required to obtain business licenses to be drivers.

And Ralston pointed to a bill by freshman State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, that requires more transparency by drug companies doing business in Nevada, as one that is likely to be copied around the country.


Gov. Sandoval described an agreement over Education Savings Accounts as "a good compromise." What happened to ESAs?

Ralston: The governor is spinning that. There is no compromise on ESAs. He’s referring to a $10 million per year needs-based scholarship program, which he is very proud of – and maybe justifiably so – called the Opportunity Scholarships. That is not an ESA. They got exactly $60 million less than what Sandoval proposed on ESAs and he proposed $60 million dollars.

Is not getting the ESAs funding passed going to be a big problem for Republicans?

Ralston: It depends on which Republicans you’re talking about. I think the Republicans, in my opinion, had a disastrous end of the session in not getting ESAs and now being on the record – at least some of them – as voting against projects and programs that can easily be used or exploited, demagogued during the campaigns. Believe me, the Democrats are already gearing up to do that.

I’m not sure what they think they can crow about that they got in this session. That is so overwhelming. To not get ESAs, which they made their hill to die for, even though it’s not that popular out there in the general electorate, I think is a very big loss for them.

Is anyone expressing concern about the anonymous donor for UNLV's medical school?

Messerly:   I think that there is obviously going to be a little bit of concern whenever you do have an anonymous donor bringing in that much money. Some people were raising concerns: does this person have an interest in the Legislature? Are they wanting to remain anonymous purely out of the goodness of their hearts or is it because they have some other interest at the Legislature?

Is there any concern that the mystery donor might be connected to the last minute casino confidentially bill?

Messerly: I haven’t heard that specifically. I think with the casino confidential bill that came out of discussions earlier in the session around Attorney General Adam Laxalt and the Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett… the gaming control board chairman recorded his conversation with the attorney general. He was concerned about some possible undo influence. And all that panned out and the FBI said there was nothing wrong. But that became a focal point of the Legislature. There were hearings where both Laxalt and Burnett were questioned. There as a lot of concern about confidentially between gaming regulators and gaming licensees. The whole thing threw Nevada's reputation as being the 'gold standard' of gaming regulation into question. The bill is more of way to reassure everyone the gold standard is still there.

What can you tell us about the Uber and Lyft bill?

Messerly: It’s about requiring drivers for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to provide evidence of a state business license within six months of being hired. This measure was introduced late last week by Democratic State Senator Kelvin Atkinson. It basically to make sure they have business licenses and that bill ended up passing out of committee and then did pass with bi-partisan support. 

What happened with rooftop solar?

Ralston: This was caught up in some serious questions about what is the marketplace going to look like if the deregulation ballot initiative passes again in 2018, which it is likely to do. Much more of an impact maybe on renewable portfolio standards, which also was the big issue.

The rooftop solar folks’ genius has been to reduce this to: You're either for net metering or you’re against progress. It’s not nearly that simple but they are very happy with this solution. I think the governor is happy to have this issue off the table.

Who was smiling leaving the session?

Messerly: I think one of the things that stick out is yesterday the governor he had a public availability at a bill signing and he was reminding everyone: We didn’t get these education savings accounts passed… but he was reminding people, ‘I had other promises in my State of the State address. Look how much other stuff we got done’ He had this major substance abuse bill. This juvenile justice reform bill and all these other budget priorities. He’s trying to say, ‘We didn’t get ESAs done, but look how much we were able to accomplish.’ The Democrats did get some of the justice system reforms they were looking for but didn't get minimum wage hikes.  

Ralston: The governor is going to always say because it's his agenda and because it's such a strong executive branch state that he got most of what he wanted. He always does. But if you make a big deal out of ESAs and say, ‘This is where the whole session turns’ and you don’t get that – you can’t ignore that.

It was kind of a status quo kind of session. The Democrats generally were unable to turn back what they hated about 2015. The fact is the major budget items were not that dramatic. They passed a weighted funding formula bill for the school district, which needs about $1.2 billion to be fully funded and they’re crowing about getting $72 million.

If you want to talk anything landmark that really happened. I think you have to look at this issue of pharmaceutical industry transparency. A bill by freshman Senator Yvanna Cancela that got vetoed by the governor in a stunning development, in which he essentially parroted Big Pharma talking points. She and some of her allies didn’t give up. They had most of it amended into another bill for transparency for pharmacy benefit managers and got it passed. That bill, which already got national attention, is I believe going to get more national attention. It’s going to end up being copycat legislation in other jurisdictions.

So, that actually may have – we have to see how the regulations are and how it's implemented – that may have a more far-reaching impact than almost anything that passed this time.



Jon Ralston, founder/publisher, The Nevada Independent; Megan Messerly, reporter, The Nevada Independent

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.