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Nye on Carson, April 17

Equal pay bill advances

A bill to tighten Nevada’s employment discrimination law and provide remedies to promote equal pay for equal work triggered a partisan rift in the Nevada Senate despite unanimous passage.

Senate Bill 167 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, was approved 20-0 after the GOP majority rejected several attempts by Democratic lawmakers to amend the bill with even stricter provisions.

The bill dealing with Nevada’s Equal Rights Commission extends time for a worker to bring complaints for employment discrimination and prohibits retaliation against workers for discussing pay with co-workers. It also allows back wages and benefits for up to three years.

A provision in the original bill that would have allowed fines of up to $10,000 against employers for “willful” violations was amended out.

Democratic senators offered several amendments, including one that would have allowed attorney fees and punitive and compensatory damages in court judgments. All were rejected along party lines.

Moments after passage, the state Democratic Party blasted Roberson and the GOP majority.

“Michael Roberson and Senate Republicans did everything they could to ensure this bill was as weak and toothless as possible because they care more about protecting the bottom line of big corporations than ensuring women receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” Roberta Lange, state Democratic Party chairwoman, said in a statement.

The missive brought Senate proceedings to a halt when Roberson almost immediately banged the gavel and called for a recess that stretched into the afternoon.

Sandra Chereb

High-tech job training bills being pushed

High-tech industries that demand a highly skilled workforce are the push behind two bills seeking a combined $9.5 million for workforce development.

The Senate Finance committee on Tuesday heard but took no action on Senate Bill 493 and Senate Bill 496.

Another measure, Senate Bill 236, seeks $10,000 for a STEM advisory council to host statewide events and recognize students for exemplary achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.

SB496, with a $6 million price tag, would create the Workforce Development Rapid Response Investment Program to help community colleges and Nevada State College quickly establish training programs for high-tech companies in need of workers with specific skills.

The funding was not included in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $7.3 billion general fund budget proposal.

Education and regional economic development officials said that with the arrival of Tesla, the expansion of Switch data centers, and the increasing buzz from companies looking to locate in Nevada, the need to assure a qualified workforce is bigger than ever.

George Ross, representing Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, also supported the bill. He noted that roughly 35 percent of companies cited a lack of skilled workers when deciding not to come to Nevada.

SB493, meanwhile, would allocate $3.5 million for a STEM workforce grant fund to be overseen by a committee. Grants would require a 100 percent match from private businesses or nonprofit organizations. Grant awards would be limited to $175,000 a year or $350,000 for a two-year period.

Sandra Chereb

Medical pot for sick animals bill dies

A proposal to allow Nevada pet owners to administer marijuana to sick animals with veterinarians’ permission has died after its sponsor said it became “a distraction.”

“For better or worse, it was a little too humorous,” said state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who introduced the bill in the Legislature.

The bill would have required the state to issue a registry card for a pet — similar to those for people — if a vet certified that the animal had a “chronic or debilitating” medical condition that could be helped by marijuana.

The pet proposal died along with a broader bill also meant to address other issues: allowing businesses to transfer marijuana licenses, making it easier for grow or dispensary operations to move to new locations and eliminating a confidentiality law to make the state’s licensing system more transparent.

Segerblom said he’ll focus on those other issues, trying to tack them on as amendments to a separate bill he sponsored.

Eric Hartley

Cooling-off for legislators’ bill advances to Senate

A bill that would impose a cooling-off period for state lawmakers who want to become paid contract lobbyists at the Legislature won unanimous approval in the Assembly on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate.

Assembly Bill 273 would prohibit a lawmaker who left office in November of an election year from working as a lobbyist, with some exceptions, until the date of adjournment of the next regular session of the Legislature.

A similar measure in the 2013 session failed.

The measure would not take effect until November 2016 and so would not affect those currently serving in the Legislature.

The sponsoring lawmaker said in previous testimony on the bill that no incident prompted his legislation. However, the revolving door raises ethical questions, such as whether a lawmaker who was planning to become a lobbyist at the next legislative session might be influenced to vote a particular way on a bill that was favored or opposed by a potential future client.

Thirty-three other states have similar cooling-off provisions to stop the revolving door situation where a lawmaker who retires from office or who fails to win re-election immediately goes to work in the Legislature as a lobbyist.

There would be exceptions in cases where a lawmaker went to work for an entity, say a county, and acted as a lobbyist for that local government. But professional contract lobbyists, who frequently serve a long list of clients, would be covered by the one-session prohibition.

Sean Whaley

Funding for execution chamber requested

Nevada has more than 80 men on death row but no suitable place to execute them should the state need to carry out capital punishment, a panel of lawmakers was told last week.

So lawmakers again are being asked to fund a new execution chamber at Ely State Prison so Nevada can be prepared to carry out a lethal injection should a court order be issued. The facility in remote eastern Nevada is the state’s only maximum security prison.

Greg Cox, director of the Department of Corrections, acknowledged in a budget hearing last week that no executions are in the offing.

But if a court orders an execution, the agency would have only between 60 and 90 days to carry it out, he said. An execution potentially could be carried out at the now-decommissioned Nevada State Prison in the capital, but litigation over the use of the death chamber at the facility would be anticipated, he said.

Cox made his pitch for about $829,000 to build a new execution chamber at the Ely prison where Nevada’s death row population is housed. The execution chamber and related facilities would take up 1,900 square feet of the current administration wing at the facility, he said.

Ely has been selected for security reasons since that is where Nevada’s worst of the worst are housed, and no transportation would be involved for an execution.

Nevada uses only lethal injection for executions, and Cox acknowledged the method of execution is being litigated around the country. Obtaining the drugs needed to perform an execution is also a challenge, he said.

Cox also said he learned last week that architectural firms are expected to avoid participating in the design of the Nevada execution chamber project.

The last execution in Nevada, by lethal injection, occurred April 26, 2006, at the Nevada State Prison, when Daryl Mack was put to death.

Mack was executed for the rape and murder of a Reno woman, Betty Jane May, in 1988.

Executions in Nevada are rare. There have only been 12 since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Death penalty cases are litigated in both state and federal courts and can take decades to finalize.

Some members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means joint budget subcommittee expressed reservations about the funding request, which is a repeat from the 2013 session, albeit at a price nearly 20 percent higher.

Sean Whaley

School choice bill signed by governor

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday signed into a law a bill enacting school choice, a measure he said was equally historic for education in Nevada.

The law allows tax breaks for businesses that donate to a scholarship program for disadvantaged students to attend private school, including those run by religious organizations.

Assembly Bill 165 is part of the Republican governor’s ambitious education agenda winding its way through the state Legislature. The measure passed along party lines in both the Assembly and Senate.

The law establishes tax credits for businesses that donate money to the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program, up to $5 million in the first year of the budget and $5.5 million in the second year. The maximum scholarship would be $7,755 per student.

Sandoval has long been an advocate for school choice, though his plans were thwarted in 2011 and 2013 by a Democratically controlled Legislature. That changed this year, when Republicans took command of the Senate and Assembly following a “red wave” election last fall.

Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it would funnel money from public schools through tax breaks to benefit private schools. They also objected to the income threshold for student eligibility, set at 300 percent of the federal poverty level. In hearings on the bill, they expressed concerns it would help more affluent families afford private school.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, dismissed those arguments during a hearing on the bill, saying a single mother with two children earning $60,000 a year would qualify.

Sandra Chereb

Sandra Chereb and Sean Whaley cover Carson City for GateHouse Media, owner of the Pahrump Valley Times. Eric Hartley is a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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