Nevada Legislature: Prevailing wage bill wins final approval, headed to governor

The bill exempting school construction projects from having to pay prevailing wage to tradesmen received final legislative approval from the Assembly on Thursday.

SB119 is headed for Gov. Brian Sandoval’s desk.

The vote was 23-19 for the measure which still contained language allowing school districts to roll bonds over for another 10 years without going back to a vote of the people.

That was strongly opposed by Republicans but, with Democratic help, was approved by both the Senate and Assembly Wednesday and immediately signed into law by Sandoval.

Republicans were told in caucus the school bond part of SB119 is already law and if they want prevailing wage reform, SB119 is the only option since Senate leadership told them up front an amendment removing the duplicate bond language would not be processed by the Senate since that would force senators to reconsider and adopt any changes, further exposing their members to criticism.

One surprise in the Assembly tally was Ira Hansen’s “no” vote. Hansen, a plumbing contractor, said he is sympathetic to the unions on the issue because wages for residential construction workers have been dramatically held down by the influx of illegal immigrant workers.

“I see all these illegals filling these jobs and that’s what’s going to happen with schools. They’ll be paying $12-$14 an hour.”

He said contractors “get the illegal guy because he’s 25-50 percent less.”

Hansen said he voted no on the exemption “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Democrats uniformly opposed the measure saying it would reduce salaries of middle class workers and turn school construction projects over to out of state companies that have no stake in building quality buildings for Nevada children.

“This is a tone that says that middle class workers no longer have a voice in this building,” said Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.

She said the bill is “about lowering wages for the middle class folks that are struggling to get back on top.”

Teresa Benitez Thompson said the bill is “an assault on our middle class families.”

But supporters including Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said the bill would lower school construction costs, enabling school districts to build more badly needed schools.

Hickey, a painting contractor, said Democratic claims the change would result in shoddy workmanship aren’t supported by the evidence, including in Ohio which has made a similar change and found no difference in workmanship over a two-year period.

“The one thing this bill does for me is it saves revenues, saves taxpayer dollars,” Hickey said.

Carson City’s P.K. O’Neill also voted for the bill.

“Yesterday I voted against SB 207, because I was uncomfortable going around the will of the people for a bond rollover extension,” said O’Neill about the school bond rollover legislation. “Today, I was faced with a choice to allow school construction dollars to be billed at market wages or continue with the status quo. Since the bond portion of SB119 was moot, I decided to support SB119 for the prevailing wage exemption. I look forward to working with the Senate on a more comprehensive package concerning various aspects relating to prevailing wage on tax payer funded construction projects, while continuing to give preference to Nevada contractors.”


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