A Senate committee passed a Republican-sponsored bill Friday that would meet the bipartisan goal of providing money to build new schools. But it also suspends prevailing-wage rules favored by unions and Democrats.
The Senate Government Affairs Committee approved SB119 with a 3-1 vote on party lines; Democratic Sen. Kelvin Atkinson was absent. Democratic Sen. David Parks of Las Vegas proposed removing the divisive portion about prevailing wage, but that idea was rejected.
“I think the primary motivation is to get the school construction going,” Republican Sen. Mark Lipparelli said about his “yes” vote. “I don’t believe there’s support for that without some of these changes.”
The measure now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
The bill’s “bond rollover” proposal, which was previously proposed by Democrats, would give school boards authority to continue issuing bonds for 10 years beyond the time period approved by voters. Districts wouldn’t be allowed to raise the tax rate.
But the measure would also suspend prevailing-wage rules for contractors building schools. Prevailing wages are pay rates set by the state labor commission for public works projects, and they vary depending on the work type and county.
Sponsors of the bill say prevailing-wage rules force school districts to pay more than market value for construction, and they question why contractors are governed by them while other industries are not.
Proponents say prevailing-wage rules bring stability to the volatile construction industry and ensure contractors are paid well. Crowds who showed up to protest the bill Wednesday argued that removing it for school construction would harm middle-class families, allow out-of-state contractors to undercut Nevada companies and lead to shoddy workmanship.
But with Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature, the bill looks likely to pass with both the bond rollover and prevailing-wage provisions.
“I hope when the governor sees this it would not be to his liking,” Parks said. “We’ll continue to give it whatever effort we can. We think it’s dead wrong.”