Nye on Carson City

Pahrump wineries push back industry expansion bill

The Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee was the stomping ground March 13 for a bill to expand commercial wineries into Nevada’s two largest counties, a move backers said is needed to establish the industry.

Opponents countered that the industry’s future in the state, like good vino, takes years to mature.

Assembly Bill 4, sponsored by Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, would remove an existing prohibition on commercial wineries in Clark and Washoe counties that prevents tasting rooms and sales on the premises.

The law originally enacted in the mid-1980s was viewed at the time as an economic development and tourism draw for Nevada’s rural counties, where grapes could be grown.

Opponents of the bill also said the reason for adding the prohibition for Clark and Washoe was to prevent big winemakers from California from moving into the state and setting up bottling facilities in competition with Nevada’s fledgling industry.

Nevada has four wineries, the fewest of any state in the nation. In contrast, Washington state, where the eastern part of the state has a climate similar to Northern Nevada, has seen its wine industry skyrocket, with grape sales of $166 million in 2012 and wine sales of $1 billion. Total economic impact was estimated at $8.6 billion.

Bill Loken of Pahrump Valley Winery said he feared the bill as written would have unintended consequences and could allow the promotion of California wines and undermine decades of investment. The winery, he said, “is just beginning to produce highly-rated, in-demand Nevada wines.”

Jack Sanders of Sanders Family Winery also testified against the bill.

Production has increased from 100 cases in 2008 to 1,600 cases of 2013 vintage wine, he said, adding that total revenue for Nevada wines has grown from less than $20,000 in 2009 to an estimated $450,000 in 2013.

No action was taken by the committee, and amendments were pending.

— Sandra Chereb

Bill to control fed introduced

A measure aimed at regulating federal law enforcement activities in Nevada and making the sheriff the pre-eminent authority in each county was introduced Friday in the Assembly.

Assembly Bill 283 by Assembly Judiciary Chairman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, seeks to add law enforcement officials with the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to an existing law restricting federal activities, even on federal lands.

Although the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution is a potential issue with his bill, Hansen said the Federal Land Management Policy Act of 1976 requires federal agencies to work cooperatively with local law enforcement.

“The danger has been that the federal guys have been usurping state laws and starting to enforce speeding tickets,” he said. “That’s what we want to put a stop to.”

Hansen said the genesis of his bill was the shooting death of a Las Vegas man by two federal rangers near Red Rock Canyon in February 2014.

D’Andre Berghardt Jr., 20, was shot and killed Feb. 14 during a confrontation with two BLM rangers while walking along state Route 159 near Calico Basin. The confrontation and subsequent shooting were caught on an onlooker’s cellphone video and showed Berghardt being pepper sprayed and kicked by the rangers before he climbed into a Nevada Highway Patrol vehicle and was shot.

Hansen said he is also seeking a provision requiring cooperation by federal agencies with local sheriffs.

Sean Whaley

Campus carry gun bill sent to Assembly floor

A bill that would allow those with concealed weapons permits to take their weapons onto the state’s college campuses won approval Wednesday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

If it becomes law, Assembly Bill 148, sought by Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, would also allow those with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons in public buildings with some exceptions and in unsecured areas of airports.

Child care facilities and public schools were deleted from the provisions of the bill.

Most officials with the Nevada System of Higher Education, and many students, opposed the measure. Supporters said the measure will make campuses safer.

Concealed carry permits are only available to those age 21 or older, meaning many students would not be able to carry weapons on campus.

The committee also approved Assembly Bill 167, which would allow people with concealed carry permits who want to be foster parents to carry their loaded weapons around children.

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, said it was “reprehensible” that qualified foster parents could be denied based on their Second Amendment rights.

The measures now go to the full Assembly and, if successful, on to the Senate. Both bills received four “no” votes in committee from Democrats but are expected to win passage in the Assembly.

There is another campus carry bill waiting in the wings that might resolve at least some concerns by university officials. Senate Bill 350 by Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, was introduced Monday. It would allow weapons on campus but prohibit them at major sporting events on campus.

Another major measure, Senate Bill 175, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. The bill would expand legal protections for justifiable homicides involving occupied vehicles, as well as making it illegal for anyone convicted of domestic violence, even a misdemeanor offense, to own a gun.

Sean Whaley

College aid bill introduced

The second of two bills aimed at making college more affordable for Nevada students attracted strong support in a hearing Friday before the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Bill 227 would allocate $5 million a year for need-based financial aid to degree-seeking students enrolled full time in a community college or Nevada State College. Grants would be calculated based on each student’s financial need after considering the student’s resources, the family’s resources and any federal aid.

Called the Silver State Opportunity Grant Program, it is sponsored by Sens. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, and Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

It could help as many as 1,000 students over the two years.

Crystal Abba, representing the Nevada System of Higher Education, called the measure a game changer for low-income residents who want to go to college and earn a certificate or degree.

Nevada ranks as one of the least affordable states in the nation for attending college when considering the total cost of attendance as a percentage of median family income.

In 2012, full-time attendance at a 2-year institution consumed 18.9 percent of the state’s median family income after financial aid. That ranked Nevada as the least affordable state in the nation, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

By 2020, 58 percent of the jobs in Nevada will require a certificate or college degree, he said.

On Thursday the same committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 215 from Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, which would create a state program to refinance student loans to reduce their payments.

Ford’s bill, which has numerous co-sponsors, would require the director of the Department of Business and Industry to create a program to provide loans to refinance student debt through the use of revenue bonds.

Called the Student Loan Relief Act, it could help many of the 262,000 Nevadans who collectively owe about $7.2 billion in student loans.

No action has yet been taken on either measure.

Sean Whaley

Sandra Chereb and Sean Whaley cover Carson City for GateHouse Media, owner of the Pahrump Valley Times.

Bill to increase speed limit to 80 clears committee

The sponsor of a bill seeking to raise Nevada’s speed limit on some highways tapped the brakes Tuesday with an amendment lowering the permissible speed by 5 mph to 80 mph.

Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, said reducing the limit was an attempt to appease critics who testified 85 mph was too dangerous.

The Senate Transportation Committee accepted the amendment and unanimously passed the bill, sending it to the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 2 is enabling legislation that would allow the Nevada Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on divided, largely rural highways to 80 mph if the agency determines it is safe.

Current law caps Nevada’s speed limit in those areas to 75 mph.

Critics said faster speed limits would lead to more fatalities and serious injuries in crashes. -Sandra Chereb

Sandra Chereb and Sean Whaley cover Carson City for Stephens Media, owner of the Pahrump Valley Times.