Nevada Legislature: Cigarette tax increases $1 per pack, state workers earn pay bump
A total of 233 pieces of Senate and Assembly legislation take effect today, including all the measures that implement the 2016-2017 budget and most of the governor’s education reform package.
There are more than 20 bills in the education package and, along with the primary K-12 education funding measure Senate Bill 515, they provide a total of nearly $3.5 billion for public education. The K-12 education bill contains $2.8 billion in General Fund money.
Nevada Superintendent of Education Dale Erquiaga said a dozen or more of those education programs are funded outside the Distributive School Account with the money “walled off” to ensure it gets spent on those programs and that “we don’t make the same mistake we did with class size reduction.”
“Everybody loves that program but there’s no way to measure it,” Erquiaga said.
But even the DSA, which provides schools money on a per pupil basis, got a heavy tweak during the Legislative session that ended June 2. Beginning in the second year of the budget cycle, that funding will start moving to a weighted formula that provides more money per pupil to students that cost more to teach such as English Language Learners and those with learning disabilities. It starts with special education students who will be funded at double the basic rate.
One of the most controversial bills is SB302 that creates vouchers so parents can take state money with them to put their child in a private school. Opponents say the measure may be unconstitutional but it’s something conservatives have wanted for decades.
A number of those education bills are aimed at accountability, including AB278 to study whether class size reduction is working. Others are designed to make it easier to remove bad teachers and principals. SB92, for example, allows layoffs of the least effective teachers and administrators first, allowing districts to base those decisions on performance rather than seniority. It also allows reassignment of teachers and principals and puts those decisions outside collective bargaining agreements.
Charter schools that fail to perform for three years of the past five years would be shut down under SB460 that also mandates ranking of public schools according to performance.
AB447 sets evaluation and student achievement standards. It also requires that student achievement data be used to evaluate teachers.
SB511 establishes the Teach Nevada Scholarship Program to encourage and support students studying to become teachers. Those monies are available not just to colleges but alternative programs to license teachers.
SB491 funds grants to a nonprofit that would be charged with attracting and establishing high quality charter schools serving students who live in poverty.
SB405 expands the Zoom elementary schools program for children with limited English skills in Washoe and Clark counties to include middle and high schools as well. The bill provides funding to reduce class sizes, extend the school day, create a summer academy for students and pay for professional development of teachers.
Bills also establish Victory Schools and other specially funded education efforts.
SB503 establishes the “Breakfast before the Bell” program to feed students who may not get breakfast at home.
SB391 is the “Read by Three” program designed to make every student able to read when they hit third grade.
SB128 increases the number of credits a community college student has to take to qualify for the Millennium Scholarship for six to nine. But it also increases the total amount a student can get each semester from the value of 12 credits to that of 15 credits. The cumulative maximum a student can get remains $10,000.
SB227 by Sens. Ben Kieckhefer and Ruben Kihuen creates the Silver State Opportunity Grant — a need-based program to help poor and underprivileged students attend community college full time. The bill contains $2.5 million a year to pay for the student aid.
Along with the K-12 education bill, the Appropriations Act contains $4.43 billion in General Fund money. That plus some $60 million to fund the Gaming Control Board and a couple of those specific education program measures brings total General Fund spending to $7.29 billion for the coming two years.
The budget contains a total of $7.95 billion in federal funding and $930.8 million in Highway Fund money.
Then there is the “other” category — all of the fees, fines and other miscellaneous revenues that flow into the state budget. They total some $3.75 billion.
Altogether, the budget totals $19.93 billion over the two-year cycle.
To fund it, lawmakers passed SB483, extending and making permanent a series of tax hikes approved six years ago and restructuring and increasing the state’s business taxes. It includes the controversial new “commerce tax” on gross receipts of a business over $4 million a year. The bill, which also raises the tax on cigarettes $1 per pack, is projected to bring in about $1.3 billion over the biennium.
Along with that, SB266 revises rules surrounding the Live Entertainment Tax that generates several hundred million in revenue every biennium. The old law imposed a 10 percent tax on smaller venues plus 10 percent of all food and drink sold but 5 percent of ticket prices on big events. The new law makes that 9 percent for all and eliminates the food and drink levy. Although sponsor Sen. Mark Lipparelli, R-Las Vegas, said it would be revenue neutral, the fact it will be imposed on outdoor events such as Burning Man along with the increase from 5 percent to 9 percent on big events will undoubtedly raise total revenues from the LET.
AB380 by Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, also will generate some revenue. It creates a presumption that out-of-state retailers with a nexus to Nevada are required to collect sales and use taxes for the state. That would hit businesses with a warehouse or other physical presence in the state that currently don’t pay very much tax.
There were several bills that effect state and other public employee salaries and benefits. The budget eliminates unpaid furlough days, worth about 2.3 percent more pay, but also eliminates longevity pay for senior employees. It funds annual step increases — worth a bit more than 4 percent a year — and provides raises of 1 percent in fiscal 2016 and 2 percent in 2017.
As the Legislature giveth, the Legislature taketh away. SB406 reduces the annual accrual toward retirement from 2.5 percent of pay a year to 2.25 percent for public employees hired after July 1. It also says that employees can get kicked out of the retirement system for crimes related to their employment. It limits the ability to buy credit toward retirement and limits total retiree compensation to a maximum of $200,000 a year. But it includes domestic partners under spousal benefits and grants surviving spouses either the retiree benefit or half the deceased’s salary if they are killed in the line of duty.
SB158 shines a light on collective bargaining agreements, requiring they be published for all to see at least three days before being adopted.
SB447 cleans up the medial marijuana law including clarifying that caregivers can buy from a dispensary. It increases penalties for counterfeiting a marijuana card and authorizes patients under age 18 to get a marijuana card. AB70 attempts to clean up the administration and enforcement of taxes on medical marijuana.
In the wake of numerous incidents nationwide involving alleged misconduct by police, SB111 was passed to require Department of Public Safety officers to wear body cameras. Police officials around the state say those cameras will most often clear the officer of wrongdoing. The bill appropriates $1.26 million from the Highway Fund to buy the cameras.
SB37 also takes effect July 1, allowing officers to use GPS to track parolees and probationers. The much more sophisticated tracking devices would, for example, let parole and probation see if a sex offender was at a school yard or other prohibited area.
At the same time, SB417 prohibits the use of telemetry devices such as GPS to track down and hunt any game animals or birds and prohibits the use of any such information collected by the Department of Wildlife for a full year after it was collected.
AB493 lifts the restrictions imposed under Dillon’s Rule, which reserves almost all powers over policy and spending to the state, not the local governments. The bill gives local governments the power to control matters not specifically reserved to the state. County officials wanted that change saying the existing law was so tight they couldn’t bar jail prisoners from having cellphones without state permission.
AB484 says that everyone in the state will get a new license plate every eight years. It will have the same letters and numbers but DMV officials say it’s needed because the old plates just wear out and become unreadable. As a benefit, however, the new plates will be embossed with raised letters and numbers.
AB67 changes the often confusing rules governing when an intoxicated person is deemed to be in control of a vehicle. It says a person isn’t actually in control of the vehicle if he or she is sleeping inside if they are not in the drivers’ seat, the engine isn’t running and the car is legally parked.
AB394 creates a committee to study the possible break-up of the Clark County School District. The district is one of the nation’s largest and is widely regarded as unmanageable.
AB377 by Carson City’s P.K. O’Neill sets up the rules for converting the old Nevada State Prison into a historic tourist attraction.
AB364 directs the Secretary of State to withhold, suspend or revoke the professional, occupational, recreational or business license of a person who fails to provide court-ordered child support.
AB301 expands existing law prohibiting restrictions on the display of the American flag to include the state of Nevada flag.
Finally, SB360 creates the Legislative Committee on Energy and directs that panel to work with the Governor’s Office of Energy to study the development, expansion and implementation of energy efficiency programs for both commercial and residential properties in the state.