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Clock ticking for Nevada Democrats to pass major reforms

Posted at 9:45 AM, May 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 12:45:53-04

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Democrats face an end-of-session deadline as they work to pass key legislation that would overhaul the state's education funding formula, curb a growing prison population and give collective bargaining rights to state workers.

Lawmakers entered the final full week of the 2019 legislative session Monday amid a budget fight and criticism from a Las Vegas-area teachers union that education funding falls short of what schools need.

"They're going to have a real busy last week," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

It's nothing new for lawmakers to have hectic final days, but he said the amount of major and wide-ranging legislation is unusual, describing it as a "logjam."

Quickly approving major policy decisions opens lawmakers to making mistakes or greenlighting measures that will have unintended consequences, Herzik said.

The so-called logjam comes despite the Democrats holding a supermajority in the state Assembly and controlling the Senate. And Gov. Steve Sisolak is the first Democrat to hold the office in two decades.

Democrats have come together this session to introduce a contentious firearm background check measure, pass it out of the Legislature and get it signed by the governor within a week. No Republicans supported it.

Among the Democratic priorities is legislation to provide state workers with the ability unionize to negotiate pay and benefits — a goal that has been elusive to some Nevada lawmakers for decades .

Sen. David Parks said last week that he expects the measure will receive a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee at some point.

"I think it's one of those bills that will come at the end — very close to the end," he said.

Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said this month that the bill would not get a hearing until the governor's office wraps up discussions with stakeholders, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Another Democratic priority is a measure revamping a decades-old system for how Nevada allocates education funding. It aims to overhaul the formula to provide more money to schools for educating children who need extra support, including students who are learning English or receive free or reduced-price meals.

Critics of the bill, which includes the Nevada State Education Association, argue the plan would be devastating to rural counties.

Assemblyman Steve Yeager on Friday tempered concerns about the legislative priorities and said it's normal to have a busy legislative schedule in the waning days of the session.

The Democrat is backing a sprawling criminal justice reform bill that aims to curb Nevada's growing prison population and lessen penalties for certain crimes, such as raising the monetary threshold for a felony theft charge to $1,200.

An amended version of the bill would save the state about $550 million over the next decade, he said.

"I actually tend to think this session is a little bit smoother than prior sessions," he said. "I feel like we're in a really good place."