In this June 4 photo, people play blackjack at the reopening of the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation Tuesday expanding workplace safety protections for hotel and casino employees and shielding businesses that follow health directives from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
"It's about acknowledging that Nevada relies heavily on the single industry — the hospitality industry. In order to make it through this historic storm," he said. "We must ensure that that industry survives."
Lawmakers passed the dual-purpose bill on the final day of the Legislature's emergency special session last week, after negotiations and impassioned debate yielded amendments exempting hospitals and K-12 schools from liability protections.
The law grants legal immunity to most businesses, nonprofits and government agencies as long as they follow health standards set by local, state and federal authorities and don't exhibit "gross negligence."
Sisolak said conditioning liability protections on adherence to health directives would help businesses reopen safely without endangering the state's tourism industry and its reputation as a premier destination. He said the liability protections would prevent frivolous lawsuits, but underscored that they weren't an "impenetrable shield" protecting businesses that expose workers and consumers to risk.
"This legislation does not provide total immunity to all businesses under all circumstances — far from it," he said. "Those inevitable bad actors that have ignored and continue to ignore our state's directives and public health and safety protocols will not be protected from liability for those failures. Those bad actors will continue to face legal consequences."
Bill Hornbuckle, the CEO and President of MGM Resorts, said the law offered an example to Congress, which is debating similar liability protections.
"Nevada managed to score a win-win that both protects workers and the public, while also providing protection and certainty to responsible businesses that the economy can continue growing and desperately needed jobs can be refilled," he said.
The law's worker protection provisions mirror a proposal put forth by the Culinary Union Local 226 in honor of Adolfo Fernandez, a Caesars Palace porter who died from COVID-19 complications in late June after casinos reopened following a three-month shutdown.
It requires health officials in Clark and Washoe counties to mandate that casinos, resorts and hotels offer testing and time off to employees exposed to coronavirus in the Reno and Las Vegas areas, and sets baseline cleaning standards for bars, hotel rooms, restrooms and elevators.
The law comes a month after MGM Resorts International and the Culinary Union Local 226 agreed to drop MGM Resorts from a federal lawsuit and enter talks about safety concerns.
The resort and union issued a joint statement Monday hailing the law as an important first step toward protection for casino workers, guests and the tourism industry.
"The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges in the workplace," they said.
Fernandez's daughter Irma spoke emotionally about the bill and said her father would be proud. Even after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, she said he continued to fight for worker protections amid the pandemic.
"Everyone works hard to provide for their families and this will provide stronger safety precautions and protections for all casino and hospitality workers," she said. "This is all my dad asked for. This was his very last wish."
Associated Press Writer Ken Ritter contributed reporting from Las Vegas.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.