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$15 minimum wage bill draws clash at Legislature

Backers of a measure to hike Nevada’s minimum wage to $15 an hour said Wednesday that the move would elevate workers out of poverty and reduce demands for public assistance, while critics countered it would shrink the availability of entry-level jobs and harm the economy.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 8, told the Senate Committee on Operations and Elections that a $15 minimum is the threshold where people who work 40 hours a week could “earn a stable living wage … and the government would not have to subsidize them.”

It’s a question for society and should be presented to voters, he said.

Food servers, home health care workers and others testified that an increase in wages would allow them to pay rent and buy food instead of relying on government assistance.

The minimum wage in Nevada is now $8.25 an hour unless employers provide health insurance, then it’s $7.25. Nevada’s wage is automatically set to be $1 higher than the federal minimum wage.

The bill’s opponents said minimum wage jobs are not intended to be career paths, but to provide teenagers and others with work experience. They also said raising the wage would reduce the number of entry-level jobs and raise consumer prices.

Nevada’s minimum wage compares with California at $9, Oregon, $9.10, and Washington, $9.32. Cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have increased their own rates to $15.

The resolution is in contrast to another measure introduced by state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City to take the state’s minimum wage out of the Nevada Constitution completely. Hardy said his measure would allow legislators to set rates based on the Consumer Price Index.

Both measures face uphill climbs. Because they seek to amend a constitutional provision approved by voters in 2006, they would have to be approved twice by the Legislature before going to voters in 2018.

Sandra Chereb

Lawmakers urged to put brakes on 85-mph bill

Opponents of a bill to possibly raise the speed limit on rural stretches of Nevada highways to 85 mph urged lawmakers to put the brakes on the proposal for public safety.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by state Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, would authorize the Nevada Department of Transportation to increase the maximum allowable speed from 75 mph on stretches of highway where it deems the higher speed is reasonable.

Gustavson told the Senate Committee on Transportation, which took no action on the bill, that it would save motorists time and argued it would enhance safety because many drivers already travel at the faster rate.

He also stressed that bill wouldn’t automatically raise the limit, but would enable the Nevada Department of Transportation to do so upon study and analysis.

The Transportation Department, however, is against the bill, as are most members of the state Board of Transportation chaired by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Other opponents included law enforcement, a trauma surgeon and a representative of the trucking industry, who argued the key to highway safety is uniformity of traffic flow.

Eric Spratley with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office said a driver who slams on the brakes while traveling 65 mph will skid for 205 feet before coming to a stop. The distances increases to 265 feet at 75 mph and 344 feet at 85 mph.

Sandra Chereb

Bill would have teachers who have sex with students register as sex offenders

A children’s advocate who helped investigate a teacher sex scandal at Pahrump Valley High School urged lawmakers Thursday to require those convicted to register as sex offenders and be subject to lifetime supervision.

“I still remember that day I learned there was a sexual predator at Pahrump Valley High School in the spring of 1983,” Terri Miller, now president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Miller said although a 1997 law made it a crime for teachers to have sexual conduct with students, they are not required to register as sex offenders and some have had their criminal records expunged, allowing them to resume teaching or working with youth.

Senate Bill 192, co-sponsored by state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R- Eureka, whose district includes Pahrump, would also extend protections to students who are 18 years old, up from 17. The change is intended to protect older students who simultaneously take college classes from predatory educators. Assembly Speaker John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, who has championed sex trafficking laws, said SB192 puts “life, blood, heart and soul” into what Nevada is trying to do to protect children and students from being victimized by authority figures.

Miller cited a high school coach in Dayton who impregnated a student in 2002 and served five years probation. He also referred to a Las Vegas coach who got a player pregnant and helped her get an abortion. That teacher was sentenced to probation in 2009.

A convicted offender who has been on supervision said he supports the bill but proposed an amendment allowing nonviolent offenders to petition for release of lifetime supervision after seven years.

The committee took no action on the bill.

Sandra Chereb

Bill would pay workers for sick leave

Employers would have to provide paid sick leave for workers under a bill introduced Thursday in the Nevada Senate.

Under the measure sponsored by state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, and the entire Democratic caucuses in the Senate and Assembly, employers would have to allow workers to accrue at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Employees could use the time if they’ve been on the job for at least 90 days.

Senate Bill 259 also would allow employers to limit use of paid sick leave to 24 hours per year and cap the accrual at 48 hours.

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor.

Sandra Chereb

PERS reform bill moves to money panel

A bill seeking to change the public employees retirement system for future hires by switching to a mostly defined-contribution plan was passed out of an Assembly committee on Wednesday on a split vote with no recommendation.

Assembly Bill 190 now moves from Government Affairs to Ways and Means, where the potential costs of the proposal from Randy Kirner, R-Reno, can be reviewed.

Several members of the committee supported the motion to allow their many questions to be answered, but said they oppose the measure as it is now written. There were five voting in opposition to keeping the bill alive.

Assemblyman Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas, objected to the motion, arguing that the many policy questions should be addressed by the Government Affairs Committee first.

Punting on the policy questions to the money committee is setting a precedent, he said.

But committee Chairman John Ellison, R-Elko, said all of Flores’ questions will be answered.

If the many policy questions are not answered satisfactorily, Ellison said he won’t support the bill.

Before the vote, PERS Executive Officer Tina Leiss was given an opportunity to identify numerous questions and concerns about the measure and whether as written, it would keep Nevada public employees from being required to participate in Social Security.

PERS has a long-term unfunded liability in the existing plan of more than $12.5 billion. Nevada’s plan is 71 percent fully funded.

The bill, if approved, would cover new public sector employees hired after July 1, 2016.

Sean Whaley

Legislators tired of springing forward

Assemblyman Chris Edwards says his constituents are tired of springing forward and falling back every year.

Especially this Monday when bleary-eyed Nevadans are heading to work an hour earlier than last week because of the time change today when clocks moved ahead one hour.

He wants Congress to let Nevada spring forward once more and leave it at that, keeping Nevada on daylight saving time in perpetuity. At a recent hearing on Assembly Joint Resolution 4, Edwards, R-Las Vegas, and fellow supporter Derek Armstrong, R-Henderson, said the twice-a-year time change no longer serves any purpose.

The recommendation to stay with Pacific Daylight Time year-round instead of switching back to standard time would provide the extra hour of light in the evening in winter, which most people seem to prefer, he said.

The resolution was heard by the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee late last month. The measure has not yet seen a vote.

Edwards said Congress determined when it enacted a bill creating the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973 that year-round daylight saving time could have beneficial effects, including “expanded economic opportunity through extension of daylight hours to peak hours and through extension of domestic office hours to periods of greater overlap with the European Economic Community.”

Congressional action is required to make the change, he said. If a bill was approved, the Legislature could implement the change in the 2017 session, Edwards said.

Sean Whaley

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

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