81st session of Nevada Legislature adjourns after flurry of activity

The Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021.

The Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Photo: David Calvert / The Nevada Independent

The 81st session of the Nevada Legislature adjourned Monday night after passing a biennial budget and a host of other measures including a mining tax increase.

But the final piece was the Capital Improvement Projects budget that was delayed repeatedly until just nine minutes before the mandatory end of session at midnight.

The CIP bill contains $413 million in projects funded primarily by General Obligation Bonds. It also contains $75 million for the Infrastructure bank along with funding for the Resource Conservation Fund. It passed 17-4.

The mining tax in AB495 was supported not only by teachers, school districts and education advocates but by the mining industry itself and the governor’s office but opposition from a majority of Republican lawmakers presented a problem since the bill needed two-thirds support in each house and Democrats alone don’t have that margin.

On the Assembly side, Jill Tolles of Reno and Tom Roberts of Las Vegas joined Democrats, making the final count 28-14.. On the Senate Side, Heidi Seevers Gansert and Ben Kieckhefer of Reno, Keith Pickard and Scott Hammond of Las Vegas joined Democrats for a 16-5 vote.

AB495 diverts the $140 million the state expects to receive from the existing net proceeds of mines tax to Education rather than the General Fund.

In addition, the bill hits mining corporations that gross $20 million to $150 million a year with a 0.75 percent excise tax on gross and those with a gross greater than $150 million with 1.1 percent. That is expected to bring in up to $170 million.

Between the two, that generates an estimated $300 million for K-12 education this coming biennium.

In addition, the legislation adds $200 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to the K-12 budget for programs to help students suffering learning loss caused by pandemic shutdowns over the past year.

Kieckhefer said the legislation is a compromise but that, “the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.”

“I’m going to support the children of our state and their education.”

Pickard too said there is more good in the bill than bad and Hammond said he first ran for office to support children and also sees the positives in AB495.

The five bills that create the state budget for the coming biennium are now on their way to the governor’s desk.
The majority of the money is in the Authorizations Act that details spending of non-General Fund revenues, primarily federal money. That act contains a total of $28.1 billion.

The list also includes the Appropriations Act that lays out how nearly all General Fund spending along with a good share of Highway Fund cash. There is more than $5.9 billion in that legislation.

The funding to cover K-12 Education spending and the cost of the employee pay bill are included within those two measures.

Education will receive about $4.4 billion a year in state money. About two-thirds of K-12 funding comes from what are referred to as local resources, primarily the Local School Support Tax portion of the sales tax, property taxes earmarked for education and the Governmental Services Tax. When added together, the spending plan provides more than $10,200 per pupil per year.

When the budget bills are added together, the state budget for the biennium totals nearly $40 billion.
The biggest single budget by far is the Medicaid budget that will consume more than $15 billion in state and federal cash.

Lawmakers decided this session to fully implement the Pupil Centered Funding Plan. That plan sets up a system where the money follows students and is tied to their specific needs with extra per student going to English language learners, at risk students, the disabled and gifted and talented students.

Supporters agreed to “hold harmless” certain those districts that would otherwise lose revenue under the new plan. That list includes nine of Nevada’s 17 school districts including Carson City and Washoe County.

They also passed AB463 to make nine small Charter Schools whole that would otherwise have lost money under the new funding formula.

The Pupil Centered Funding Plan is replacing the 50-plus year old Nevada Plan.

Lawmakers also approved an ambitious “public option” health insurance plan that would offer policies to all 
Nevadans that are at least as good as Medicare but at lower cost.

SB420 passed on a party line vote with Republicans opposed.

Whether it will work depends a lot on whether the state can get the federal Health and Human Services Department to approve waivers to allow federal pass-through funding to help pay the premiums.

The plan would be operated through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange that currently provides Affordable care Act health plans.

But lawmakers agreed it will take time to put the public option program together so the bill says it won’t go live until 2025.

AB321 establishing mail-in ballots for all who don’t opt out was approved as well. After the Economic forum increased projections of total General Fund revenue by more than $900 million, lawmakers voted to restore some 500 positions cut in the governor’s original budget caused by the pandemic. The bulk of those positions are in the Nevada System of Higher Education. That will cost $117.8 million in American Rescue Plan dollars plus $39 million to restore positions in state government.

They approved AB341 legalizing cannabis lounges in Nevada, a limited number divided between those attached to existing dispensaries and independent lounges.

There were a few casualties among the bills sought by the Democratic majorities in both houses, including abolition of the death penalty in Nevada.

“At this time, there is no path forward for Assembly Bill 395,” said Gov. Steve Sisolak, who opposes complete elimination of the death penalty.  The bill would not only have eliminated the death penalty going forward, it would have commuted the sentences of some 70 inmates on death row to life in prison without possible parole. 


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