“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude unless for the punishment of crimes shall ever be tolerated in this state.”
— Nevada State Constitution, Article 1
On Feb. 6, the 82nd session of the Nevada State Legislature began. Legislators include 21 Nevada state senators – 13 Democrats and 8 Republicans. The state Assembly has 42 members, including 28 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The session is scheduled to adjourn June 5.
With a Republican governor and Democrats holding the majority in both houses, a lot of compromise will be required. Bills being presented should be carefully studied. Several, if passed, will enhance the quality of life in Nevada.
For example, Assembly Bill 356 would impose criminal penalties on anyone who installs a tracking device on someone’s vehicle without lawful authorization. Currently, this action is not illegal, but this bill would expand the Nevada Revised Statutes to say: “Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, a person commits the crime of unlawful installation of a mobile tracking device if the person knowingly installs, conceals or otherwise places a mobile tracking device in or on the motor vehicle of another person without the knowledge and consent of an owner or lessor of the motor vehicle.”
It seems incredible that this is presently legal. Because of that concern, this bill has received bipartisan support, including from Assemblyman Greg Koenig, R-District 38. For the sake of safety and privacy, let’s hope this one passes.
Another item, Assembly Joint Resolution 10, was passed unanimously by the legislature in 2021. This relates to something most of us probably thought was settled with the 13th Amendment, the issue of slavery. This resolution’s official name is “Remove Slavery as Punishment for Crime from Constitution Amendment.”
The measure would amend the Nevada Constitution, Article 1, Section 17, which currently says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude unless for the punishment of crimes shall ever be tolerated in this state.” The amendment would remove the words “unless for the punishment of crimes.”
This doesn’t mean convicted criminals can’t be kept in prison. It does mean they can’t be forced to work for nothing within the prison system or be hired out to private parties as slave labor. They would be paid for their work.
In Nevada, the Department of Corrections runs Silver State Industries, a self-supporting industrial program. Inmates in the program make furniture, clothing, metal items, and much more. When I was a school librarian, I used the Silver State Industries bookbinding services for worn-out books. The books were rebound for a very reasonable price and looked beautiful. It was a win-win.
As of 2017, inmates were paid between 25 cents and $5.15/hour for this work. That’s not much, but it gives inmates some money to buy necessities and teaches them employable skills they can use upon release. If this resolution passes in this legislative session, it will be on the November ballot in 2024. We can finally vote to abolish slavery in Nevada.
Along those same lines is AB292. This bill amends the NRS to ensure inmates are treated with dignity, including being able to shower, change clothes, use bathrooms, etc., without being observed by a staff member of a different gender.
It also provides for adequate medical care for inmates, including gynecological and obstetrical care for female inmates. Concerning basic needs, it provides for free personal hygiene products such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products. Currently, inmates have to pay for these items; if they don’t have family members who can send money, they have to earn the money or go without. Basic humanity should mean all inmates have these fundamental necessities.
There are many more bills worth following. SB 68 is “AN ACT relating to housing; creating the Critical Needs Fund; authorizing money in the Fund to be used for certain purposes relating to very low income housing, supportive housing and supportive services; increasing the real property transfer tax; requiring the money from the increased tax to be deposited in the Fund; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”
This means that money raised from the transfer tax would be used to fight homelessness and provide more low-income housing, plus support services many people may need. We should all endorse the goal of helping people achieve the dignity of a secure place to live.
These are just a few of the bills that will be debated and voted on this session. We can all work to make Nevada an even better place to live.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.