Legislature wraps up final bill after 12-day session
R-C Capitol Bureau
After a dozen days, Nevada legislators approved a bill on Sunday evening that pumps $656 million into the state’s general fund.
Other parts of the budget package including $72 million in cuts to the Capital Improvement Projects budget have already been approved.
Assembly Bill 3 actually cuts and repurposes state general fund spending. Another measure that included state worker furloughs, redirecting the Governmental Services Tax and other changes, was folded into the final bill.
Elimination of merit pay for state workers was removed from the bill, so they will apparently not have that money taken away from them. Just over $41 million of cuts to state workers were restored in the amended bill.
It was approved 36-6 in the Assembly. It was unanimous, 21-0, in the Senate.
An original proposal to furlough state workers one day each month this year was halved to six months.
In addition, they moved the furloughs back so they don’t start this month in hopes of finding money somewhere to eliminate the unpaid days off altogether.
The bills are designed to cover the projected $1.2 billion general fund shortfall this fiscal year that was created by the economic shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Senate Fiscal Analyst Mark Krmpotic said the bill contains provisions that if more federal funding is granted to Nevada it will be used to offset some of reductions and restore budgets in departments including Health and Human Services.
Sens. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno and James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, all praised some of the governor’s cuts that were restored including programs for mental health, personal care services, prosthetics, immunizations, problem gaming and the restoration of K-12 funding in the form of a $50 million block grant program.
Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, said the plan doesn’t fix everything but that it’s a bridge that gets them to February and the regular 2021 session.
She along with Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, Kieckhefer and Settelmeyer all praised the opposition party for being willing to work through the bill and compromise to make it better.
While fixing a problem with the bill Sunday morning, the Assembly amended it to also include $50 million in CARES Act money for public education.
Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said the money will go to the state Department of Education as a block grant so school districts can apply for cash to support programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable students. He said each district will apply for the money to support the programs they feel are most needed in their schools.
The language of the amendment specifically states the money cannot be used in arbitration or to increase salaries or benefits.
He and Cannizzaro also committed to making public education a priority for any other additional funding through the end of this fiscal year including the Read by Grade Three program that was eliminated in the bill.
Sisolak too applauded the delivery of $50 million in Coronavirus Relief Funding to help students most impacted by the loss of in-person instruction.
On Sunday, Sisolak said that while it was his original intention to call a second session of the Legislature, the spike in coronavirus cases has prompted him to reconsider.
“While it was my previous intention to call an immediate subsequent special session to discuss extraordinary policy issues that I believe cannot and should not wait until the regularly scheduled 2021 legislative session, I have serious reservations about having our lawmakers convene again for a similar – or longer – period of time in the midst of this spike in our state,” he said. “My goal is still to issue a proclamation for a second special session, but I will only do so when I am confident the Legislature, in coordination with my office, has fully reviewed all policy items and is ready to conduct a thorough, organized and efficient second special session.”
Some of the policy issues Sisolak said he wants a second special session to tackle include criminal and social justice policy reform, voting, stabilizing businesses, establishing safety standards for workers and removing legal barriers hampering Nevada’s unemployment system’s work.