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Legislature approves record budget at deadline

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Legislature came to a halt at midnight Monday, capping a day that saw approval of a record $1.1 billion general fund tax package to fund Gov. Brian Sandoval’s aggressive education package and a dizzying day of dealmaking.

When combined with $336 million directed to the state school fund, the total tax measure stretches to $1.4 billion. With two hours left in the session, the Assembly gave final approval to the last of five budget bills authorizing Sandoval’s $7.3 billion two-year general fund spending plan.

Committees met on short notice and on the chamber floors throughout the day. Lobbyists and lawmakers pitched amendments to bills. And the Senate and Assembly processed bills until the very end.

Once the clock struck midnight, anything twisting in the wind died. The Senate adjourned for a final time, sine die, about 12:18 a.m.

SUCCESSES AND FAILURES

Last-minute deals were one story of Day 120 of the session. A bill passed early in the session to remove prevailing wage requirements from new school construction was eliminated in a last-minute deal with Democrats for their support for Sandoval’s tax bill.

Another measure that would have placed what critics said were onerous requirements on citizens to circulate petitions for the ballot saw an attempt at resurrection. Senate Bill 434 died in the Assembly, but the bill’s provisions were proposed to be added into another Assembly bill by Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden. When reports of the effort spread on social media, the amendment was withdrawn.

Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, was pushing for additional regulations on ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft in an amendment to Senate Bill 440. The measure failed.

Assembly Speaker John Hambrick introduced a bill Monday to let the Public Utilities Commission delay renewable energy projects proposed to be built by NV Energy. The bill relates to efforts by several large gaming companies and the data storage company Switch to leave Nevada Power and secure their own power on the wholesale market. The bill passed.

One eleventh-hour effort died that would have created another way for Clark County to enact a sales tax increase to hire more police officers. Mesquite and other cities lobbied unsuccessfully for Assembly Bill 494, which would have created a six-member panel with an elected representative from the county and each of the five cities in the county with a police department. That panel would have had the ability to determine if a “more cops” sales tax increase was needed. But the bill did not see a vote in the Assembly Tax Committee.

A push to change Nevada’s overtime law also was defeated when the Assembly didn’t approve a conference committee report agreed to with the Senate.

The report sought to put back a raise in Nevada’s minimum wage to $9 per hour for workers not offered employer-paid insurance.

It also would have required low-wage workers to be paid overtime rates after 10 hours worked.

The failure of the Assembly to accept the agreement means workers will continue to get paid overtime after eight hours of work.

Also failing was a measure sought by Republicans to establish a presidential preference primary in February. The bill never came up for a vote in the Assembly

Some bills winning last-day approval included body cameras for Nevada Highway Patrol officers and the creation of a $1 Department of Motor Vehicles transaction fee to help fund a $109 million computer system upgrade. Lawmakers also overhauled the state’s confusing live entertainment tax.

Many bills that were still breathing were working through the process in the final hours.

‘VERY HARD WORK’

But it was final passage of Sandoval’s signature tax measures and sweeping education reforms early that punctuated the day.

“This is a culmination of very, very hard work,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said moments before the Senate concurred 18-3 with the historic measure that was passed 30-10 by the Assembly the night before.

“I understand why ‘historic’ has been used a lot today,” said Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas. “It’s historic that we finally reached a consensus in this building that funding our kids’ future cannot wait.”

State Sen. Debbie Smith, donning a bright fuchsia-colored wig after treatment for a malignant brain tumor, also called the day historic.

A fierce advocate for education, the Sparks Democrat thanked Republican leadership, the governor’s office and her Democratic colleagues for working together to overhaul the state’s education system.

“This means so much, the fact that we are finally, finally funding education in this state,” Smith said.

State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, called the effort and the governor’s education agenda that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding and sweeping reforms “monumental.”

Hardy said he is proof it’s possible to be a Republican and vote for taxes.

“You can vote for a tax … and still get re-elected,” said Hardy, a reference to anti-tax conservatives who condemned the measure in the Assembly as a betrayal of Republican principles.

The Senate vote was a breeze compared with the tension in the Assembly on Sunday, where passage of the revenue plan was uncertain right up to the vote. It passed 30-10 with 13 Republicans in support.

MORE FOR SCHOOLS

The five budget bills winning final approval Monday included a huge increase in spending on public education, Sandoval’s primary focus of the session.

Total state funding for public education will climb by more than $400 million to $2.8 billion, a nearly 16 percent increase over the current budget.

Sandoval’s education plan includes expanding all-day kindergarten to all schools at a cost of $140 million over two years, $100 million to help English language learners and accountability measures such as Read by 3, which will require students to master reading by the third grade or be held back. Failing schools could be taken over by charter agencies through an Achievement School District.

There were also two school choice measures approved that supporters said would make Nevada a leader on the issue nationwide.

There was $29 million allocated to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to establish a medical school with its first class of students by 2017 and nearly $50 million to build a new hotel college academic building at the university.

State employees will get the first cost-of-living raises in years, 1 percent on July 1 and 2 percent on July 1, 2016.

Also, lawmakers passed a bill that could start the Clark County School District on the path toward deconsolidating by the 2018-19 school year.

Assembly Bill 394 was designed to set up an advisory committee and a technical committee to develop a plan for reorganizing the district into five or more separate school precincts.

The Assembly voted 35-5 on the bill late Monday. A 13-7 vote in the Senate sent the bill to the governor’s desk.

The committee would work on a plan that must be ready to implement before the 2018-19 school year. The final plan would need to be filed with the School Board, Legislative Counsel Bureau and State Department of Education.

The State Board of Education would be responsible for implementing regulations for the plan to move forward.

Legislative Commission approval would be required, which means that a denial would stop the plan.

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