Real news. Real stories. Real voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

John L. Smith On The Death Penalty Ban: Why Won't It Pass In Nevada?

This Nov. 10, 2016 file photo released by the Nevada Department of Corrections shows the newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev.
Associated Press

This Nov. 10, 2016 file photo released by the Nevada Department of Corrections shows the newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev.

The death penalty will remain in Nevada, and some Democrats aren't happy about it. 

Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith said the bill to ban the death penalty was “dead in the water” when it didn’t pass through the State Senate.

“However, it really went as far as it has ever gone in the state,” he said.

He said when the Assembly passed the bill with no support from Republicans it was a sign that problems lay ahead for it.

Once it reached the State Senate, it met with a couple of members of that body that work for the Clark County District Attorney’s office and the district attorney is outspoken against banning the death penalty.

“Two Democrats, Democratic state senators. Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Melanie Scheible, they work for the district attorney, Steve Wolfson, they come to this issue with a different perspective,” he said, “They’ve also got their own professional lives, I imagine, to consider.”

In addition, Smith noted that Gov. Steve Sisolak was “not on board.”

“You’ve got a lot of different things tugging on this issue,” he said, “It is still very controversial, despite the fact that the majority of the states have already outlawed it, and other states are considering it.”

Smith said there is a lot working against a ban, but from a different perspective, the bill actually got a “pretty powerful hearing” by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, who introduced the bill, and his supporters.

“It gained some ground, at least in the consciousness of the state,” he said.

Smith said besides the moral argument against the state putting someone to death, there are racial challenges that go along with the death penalty.

“A majority of minority persons convicted of crimes wind up on the death row,” he said, “It’s that way in Nevada.”

He also noted that the death penalty is not all that practical to carry out. They are time consuming and expensive. Plus, most defendants fight them which drags out the whole process.

“Plus, there are no do-overs,” he said, “If you make a mistake, and mistakes have historically been made… there is no way to fix it.”

Smith said those reasons and more have persuaded other states, and a majority of other countries, to ban the death penalty.

Gov. Sisolak’s opinion on the death penalty had an impact on the bill to ban the practice. He said he believes in the death penalty in “extreme cases.”

“Clearly, the governor is trying to have it both ways,” Smith said, “To be a person who is sensitive to these issues, but the fact is, it’s already reserved for the worst of the worst.”

The ‘worst of the worst’ can be defined in a lot of different ways, Smith said. It can range from an act of terrorism to murdering a child. There is a whole list of aggravating factors that can move a case to the death penalty category.

“There is a lot of wiggle room in this area,” he said, “And this is one of those things that folks who oppose it say it can really apply to almost anything, including the people who did not actually physically commit the crime of murder.”

People who were somehow an accomplice to murder can receive the death penalty, Smith said, which is something that other states are looking at abolishing all together.

“I think when the public sees that more and more states are falling into line with the impracticality and historical racial issues and all the other problems with the death penalty, that it’s just not worth it,” he said.

But Nevada is not ready to “make that statement,” Smith said.

Occupational Licensing

Under State Senate Bill 335 several professional licensing boards would be abolished and instead the state would set up a Division of Occupational Licensing.

“These boards on paper look terribly useful,” Smith said, “In practice, over the decades, these boards have often been gatekeepers to competition.”

He said the boards are often filled with people from the industry they are overseeing, which sounds like a good idea, but in reality, they’ve kept people out as often as they’ve invited them in.

“The standards that they have upheld have been really, really inconsistent,” he said, “A lot of these boards were just kind of created as political sops for favored contributors and things like that.”

Smith said over the years people have tried to individually take out one board or another, but “they are just like zombies, they keep coming back.”

The effort now is to eliminate the boards and move their operations into the Department of Business and Industry.

There is pushback to the bill mainly from people in the acupuncture business, Smith said.

“The Board of Oriental Medicine is probably the greatest example of why these boards should exist,” he said, “The board has existed and continues to exist at a pretty high professional level.”

Nevada was one of the first states to legalize acupuncture back in the 1970s.

Those opposed to the bill feel like it is taking acupuncture and lumping it in with other practices that are not medical.

“It looks like there’s a bias being brought to bear at least that’s what people who are pushing back are saying,” Smith said.

Rep. Mark Amodei R-NV., and Rep. Liz Cheney’s ouster from House Leadership

“For Mark Amodei, he’s a fellow at a crossroads in his career. He is faced with the idea that he might run for higher office than his very reliable seat in Congress from Northern Nevada,” Smith said.

Smith said Amodei has seen from Cheney’s disappearance from Republican leadership that former President Donald Trump’s influence is very strong.

“Acknowledging that as a reality is no sin, but not pushing back against things like the false narrative of January 6 and the false narrative of somehow a massive voter fraud throughout country, not being demonstrative about that is like a character check, at least as I see it,” he said.

Smith said Amodei is not an “Adam Laxalt who is a kind of MAGA hat, fanboy,” but he does have some challenges ahead mainly because he’s voted on both sides of some issues, including COVID relief bills.


John L. Smith, contributor

Stay Connected
Kristen Kidman is a former senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.