CARSON CITY (KTNV) — The Nevada Legislature will meet in one week in Carson City to begin the 2021 legislative session, and party leadership in both chambers face major challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Gov. Steve Sisolak's budget proposal, the Nevada Legislature will have to trim an estimated $500 million from the state's multi-billion dollar budget compared with the 2019 legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson will lead the Democratic majority in tackling the shortfall and establishing policy. But without a supermajority, they will have to reach out to and work with Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer and Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus to accomplish anything involving the budget.
"Any revenue conversation in the state of Nevada is going to require a two-thirds vote, and those are never easy," Frierson said.
The assembly speaker said he would prioritize education spending and small business support when considering the budget. However, because the legislature is legally required to pass a balanced budget nothing would be off the table.
"I don't know that we can afford to say that we can't touch anything," Frierson said. "I don't know that you can advance a state budget that way without running a deficit which we're not allowed to do."
Cannizzaro agreed with Sisolak's prioritization of education and healthcare-related spending.
She said restoring Medicaid reimbursement rates to the level they were before the 2020 special session of the legislature would be important to the state's healthcare infrastructure during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
"During the special session," Cannizzaro said. "We had to make a lot of tough choices when faced with a roughly $1.3 billion budget deficit and we are required to have a balanced budget so there were cuts to things in health care like Medicaid."
Settelmeyer and Titus both pointed to education spending as among the most important for the coming biennium.
"Education has to be a priority," Titus said. "That's our number one function in the Legislature is to approve the budgets and the number one budget we have to pass first before we look at any other budget is education."
Titus said budget-related conversation among legislative leadership has been limited in the weeks leading up to the session.
She said most of the talks have concerned safety procedures in the Capitol to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Settelmeyer said any in-depth talks wouldn't be fruitful at this point anyway as the mid-session economic forum would truly tell them what they can spend.
"In May when the forum gives us that number, that's the amount of money we have to spend. So, it doesn't particularly matter right now what anyone has to say," he said.
The 120-day 2021 Nevada legislative session begins on Feb. 1.