CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- A general improvement district bill sought by Lincoln County commissioners but labeled by critics as help for an influential developer and lobbyist was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Kenny Guinn.
AB136 creates the district in an area about 50 miles north of Las Vegas, where Harvey Whittemore is planning a 42,000-acre golf course and community.
The new law was described by advocates as a move to help implement "multi-species habitat preservation plans" required under federal law.
Critics said it also could preserve Whittemore's efforts for water rights he needs to develop Coyote Springs, and give him a way around environmental rules that could have obstructed the development. Whittemore said the claims were unwarranted.
During legislative debate, Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, D-Las Vegas, said she didn't believe the measure was brought on behalf of the Lincoln commissioners. She said it would help the developer of Coyote Springs, which she dubbed "bad urban planning that will take substantial infrastructure" to build.
Environmentalists also have complained the development would take habitat space from the endangered desert tortoise and could impact the habitats of other species.
Whittemore's plan to build 50,000 homes would require 16,000 acre-feet of water. He has already acquired 6,100 acre-feet, but has been battling the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the state engineer to acquire more.
Guinn also signed:
--AB156, which reinstates the plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" in criminal cases. Lawmakers removed the plea in 1995 at the request of prosecutors, replacing it with a plea of "guilty but mentally ill." But in 2001 the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the move violated the United States and Nevada constitutions. The new law also establishes guidelines for detaining and treating people acquitted because they're mentally ill.
--AB236, which gives the state Office of Consumer Health Assistance the ability to collect information on alternative programs from drug companies and give it to Nevadans in need of free or discounted prescription drugs. Proponents said many companies give prescription drugs to people who can't afford them, but most people don't know about the "compassionate care programs."