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Hundreds of bills up for consideration at Nevada Legislature

Nevada lawmakers are sworn in during the opening of the 82nd Session of the Nevada Legislature from the Assembly Chambers of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Nev., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.
Tom R. Smedes
Nevada lawmakers are sworn in during the opening of the 82nd Session of the Nevada Legislature from the Assembly Chambers of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Nev., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.

The legislature is in session, and it’s been a busy seven weeks. Hundreds of bills are being considered.

One bill would legalize magic mushrooms. Another would bring a lottery to Nevada. Another would strengthen abortion protections. So far, about 1,000 bill draft requests have been entered, and an extension is in place to allow more bills to be entered.

Steve Sebelius is the politics and government editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He joins State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to talk all things local politics along with CSN Professor Sondra Cosgrove, Jacob Solis of The Nevada Independent and Warren Hardy, a lobbyist.

“Some of the lawmakers who have requested those bills may not be back, they may lose their election, they may be term-limited, they may resign,” Sebelius said. “So then you have what they call an orphan bill. And that's a bill with no sponsor, and whether or not somebody else picks that up, you never know. But there is an interim period of 18 months; there should be drafting going on every day of that period, so that when the legislature starts, they're ready to go with a number of things.”

He doesn’t think limiting the number of bills that can be introduced would solve the glut, as many of them are complex and can be 100 to 200 pages long.

Cosgrove called the current session “average,” which “means it’s very dysfunctional.”

She explained, "Nevada is a state that's full of dysfunctional processes that produce dysfunctional outcomes. The political parties, in some respects, take advantage of that because when things are chaotic, it's hard for us to see what they're doing and what's going on. So, I think if we want to fix some of these processes, we're going to have to have ways for the people, those of us who get tired of this, to figure out how to change a process or to figure out how to pressure them to do better. The people need to be more engaged."

The lottery to fund mental health

Hardy said Nevada is unique in not having a statewide lottery, but that means it’s hard to compare what the lottery would mean for the state compared to others that have it.

“There are factors that have to be considered in Nevada that don't have to be considered in another state. Specifically, how does this impact our largest employer, our largest part of the largest part of our economy?” he said.

This session’s bill, AJR5, would put the decision to a vote, with proceeds going toward mental health resources.

“My guess is that it will pass overwhelmingly,” Hardy said. “One of the most critical needs we have in the state of Nevada right now [is a funding source for mental health]. They're going to see that as a solution.”

“Attempts to legalize a lottery have always failed because of opposition from the state's number one industry,” Sebelius added. “They are worried that $1 spent on gambling will not go to their casinos the last time it was seriously considered.”

He continued, “This is, as Joe Lombardo might say, the ‘Nevada Way,’ which is, we find a way to make someone else pay for the things that we ought to pay for as a society. We have capped our property tax and the abatements are not going to give. Governor Lombardo was not going to sign a bill that will allow property taxes to increase to pay for the things that we need, like police and fire and yes, mental health. So as a result of that our correctional institutions are going to be our largest mental institutions as well, until we figure out a way, or decide, we are going to do this in the proper way.”

Solis said the Culinary Union this session has been making sure everyone knows about the lottery bill in Carson City. But the problem is constitutional. Anytime the legislature tries to amend the state constitution, it’s a multi-year process, which means it has to pass session, then next session, and then voters get a look.

“At any point in that process, it could fail. And does it have the juice this time? I'm not so sure,” he said.

The education problem

“When the students move from [the Clark County School District] over to us, then the issues become our issues,” Cosgrove, a history professor at College of Southern Nevada, said. “Everybody wants to focus on CCSD. We would like to also focus on the community colleges and the problems we need to have addressed.”

Lombardo said he wanted to repair cuts made to higher education during the pandemic. Sebelius thinks lawmakers will be ready to approve those measures.

Education is “a wholly systemic issue,” Sebelius said. “And the problems that start there start in the first three grades, when students aren't able to learn to read … When you don't fix these problems, they don't just go away, they end up coming out somewhere else, whether in the community college, whether on the streets with crime, all of these other places. So I think again, in the ‘Nevada Way,’ we just pretend everything's okay when it's clearly not.”

“I think it's pretty clear that we have underfunded our schools through the years,” Hardy added, noting that it’s not just CCSD that has issues.

“I would submit that something is being done at the legislature this session, potentially with regard to higher education in that regard, because that's a place where legislators and policymakers really have had their hands tied. Every time the legislature tries to get engaged and involved in something in higher ed, they're told, ‘No, hands off.’”

Magic mushrooms

Senate Bill 242, introduced by state Sens. Rochelle Nguyen and Fabian Donate, would decriminalize psilocybin, known as magic mushrooms.

In 2022, Nevada Public Radio spoke with UNLV researchers whose work focuses on using magic mushrooms to treat mental health conditions. Hear that interview here.

“There's been a lot of chatter about the way that magic mushrooms, for instance, can help with PTSD for veterans, right?” said Solis. “And so, I think Nevada's relationship with the military, there's an opportunity if it's sold that way, that maybe there's some bipartisan support there.”

Nevada Public Radio will continue to cover the 82nd Session of the Nevada Legislature. Stay turned for updates.

Guests: Sondra Cosgrove, history professor, College of Southern Nevada; Steve Sebelius, politics editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Jacob Solis, reporter, The Nevada Independent; Warren Hardy, lobbyist, Hardy Consulting

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.
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