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Lombardo says he will call special session amid budget impasse

CARSON CITY — Gov. Joe Lombardo said he would call a special session of the Nevada Legislature, after lawmakers failed to pass the capital projects budget in the closing hours of the 2023 session.

“My office and I are conferring with legislative leadership this evening, and I anticipate calling a special legislative session in the morning,” Lombardo said in a statement released at 1 a.m. on Tuesday. “I will issue a proclamation to outline agenda items for the special session when finalized.”

The special session is expected to include the budget bill as well as funding for the proposed Oakland A’s stadium in Las Vegas.

With about 30 minutes left in the session on Monday, Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the capital improvement plan, leaving a key part of the state budget unfunded. The failure of Assembly Bill 521 did not automatically trigger a special session, but it leaves necessary state projects hanging in the balance.

The bill would have appropriated $3.4 billion in 2024 and $3.6 billion in 2025 from the general fund, and $167.5 million in 2024 and $168.6 million in 2025 from the highway general fund, according to Assembly Fiscal Analyst Sarah Coffman.

Some things did get done, however.

Gov. Joe Lombardo signed Senate Bill 511, a key budget bill funding state government operations. The Assembly passed Lombardo’s crime bill, Senate Bill 412, by a 40-2 vote, with Assemblyman David Orentlicher, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Shondra Summers Armstrong, D-Las Vegas, in opposition.

The Assembly also unanimously passed Lombardo’s government modernization and efficiency act, Senate Bill 431, late Monday night. Among other things, the bill raises the cap on the Rainy Day fund from 20 percent to 26 percent, although Lombardo had originally requested it be moved to 30 percent.

Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager scheduled a news conference following the adjournment, but it was canceled by a staffer who told reporters that the speaker had other business to attend to instead.

But legislative Democrats did issue a news release after adjournment, touting the things they did accomplish. “Tonight, Senate Republicans blocked hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in public services, infrastructure, and job creation,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in the statement. “This budget bill would have invested in our retired and disabled veterans, in people who are desperately seeking mental health treatment, and in better health care and public safety facilities. Republicans instead chose politics, wasting time and taxpayer dollars to re-litigate partisan disputes instead of working with us in the best interests of Nevadans.”

Republicans, however, defended their votes against the capital projects budget, saying there was “ample time” to address the issues during the regular session.

“Nevadans elected Governor Lombardo because they were tired of the failed policies of the prior administration and the government being run by a single party,” said Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert in a statement. “Our priorities for equity are reasonable and need to be addressed.”

In remarks on the floor, she specifically cited funding for charter school teacher pay, charter school buildings and graduate medical education slots.

Vetoes

Lombardo also vetoed the controversial assisted suicide bill Monday evening, arguing that it was “unnecessary” due to improvements in pain management.

Senate Bill 239, also known as the the death with dignity bill, would have allowed for physician-assisted suicide in the state of Nevada for patients older than 18 who have been diagnosed with a terminal condition by at least two doctors.

“End of life decisions are never easy,” Lombardo wrote in his veto message. “Individuals and family members must often come together to face many challenges — including deciding what is the best course of treatment for a loved one.”

Lombardo said the provisions in the bill were “unnecessary” due to expansions and improvements in palliative care services, or care for people living with serious illnesses, and pain management.

Elliot Malin, a lobbyist who had pushed for the bill, said there are people who are dying a very painful death, and the pain is not stopping.

“There are Nevadans right now that are suffering,” Malin said. “This is not a choice between life and death. … Having the opportunity to have this choice on how their life will end after a very gruesome and cruel illness stripped from them is very disappointing.”

The governor also vetoed Assembly Bill 250, which would have capped certain drug prices at the rate that was negotiated under the Inflation Reduction Act through Medicare. It would have prohibited a company or person from paying for certain drugs at a cost higher than the maximum fair price.

The Nevada State Democratic Party criticized Lombardo for vetoing the bill, saying that he is “siding with pharmaceutical companies over Nevadans.”

The bill, opposed by Republican legislators, had passed the Assembly in a 27-15 vote in April, and the Senate in a 13-7 vote with one senator excused in May.

Lombardo wrote that the bill would set arbitrary price caps in Nevada that are based on federal decisions, “with no review or consideration from state stakeholders.”

Education, crime bills pass

In the midst of Lombardo’s vetoes, the Senate passed the governor’s crime legislation (albeit with an amendment that gutted major provisions), his education package and Yeager’s homelessness bill.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 412 with only Sen. James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, against it. The bill included major provisions that would implement harsher penalties for crimes, but legislators slashed the bill, removing most of the provisions. What was finally approved includes an appropriation to the Department of Public Safety to purchase two fentanyl-testing machines.

Assembly Bill 528, passed by a 19-2 vote, would provide $100 million in matching funds for the construction of a facility for people experiencing homelessness. Sens. Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, and Robin Titus, R-Wellington, voted against the bill.

Lawmakers also voted nearly unanimously to approve the governor’s education bill. Assembly Bill 400, which would allow a city or county to sponsor a charter school in certain circumstances and reinstate the Read by Grade 3 program, was approved on a vote of 20-1, with Hansen the lone no vote.

The bill to make Juneteenth a legal holiday in Nevada, Assembly Bill 140, now goes before Lombardo, who previously told the Review-Journal that he’d support it.

Assembly Bill 519, which would allocate funding to replace a school on the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation passed the Assembly.

Malpractice caps

After days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and three amendments, lawmakers voted 16-5 to approve a bill increasing the cap on medical malpractice awards from $350,000 to $750,000.

Under Assembly Bill 404, the current cap would increase by $80,000 at the beginning of each year starting in 2024 until it reaches $750,000 in January 2028. After that, the amount is set to increase each year by 2.1 percent.

“It represents a very grand compromise between pretty much everyone except the anesthesiologists so you all better vote for it,” Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, said prior to the floor vote, drawing laughter from a weary Senate chamber.

Before being amended, the bill would have moved the cap up to $2.5 million and would have been adjusted annually based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index starting on Jan. 1, 2025.

The bill will be sent back to the Assembly for concurrence before being sent to Lombardo.

Conference committees

Lawmakers also held several conference committees meant to resolve disagreements over changes made to legislation.

During one such meeting, lawmakers voted to gut Senate Bill 60, a bill sponsored by Sen. Skip Daly, D-Sparks, that would have allowed certain registered voters to request and cast a ballot through an electronic transmission system. Lawmakers instead approved an amendment to the bill that would require reporting campaign donations made to inaugural committees.

Lawmakers also voted to make last-minute changes to Senate Bill 35, a bill establishing fentanyl trafficking in criminal statute. The change applies the bill’s penalties to fentanyl derivatives.

Unresolved issues

There are, however, a number of other bills up in the air that could lead to a special legislative session.

Senate Bill 509, which would fund the public portion of the Oakland Athletics’ proposed stadium — a $380 million package for the stadium that will cost $1.5 billion overall — required votes in both legislative chambers when the clock struck midnight.

The film tax credit bill — Senate Bill 496 — that would make $190 million in film tax credits available every year for the next 20 years, also went by the wayside at deadline, without a vote in either chamber.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter. Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on Twitter.

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