Nevada Legislature: Lobbyists, interest groups grade the session
It was a brave new world when Republicans swept all constitutional offices and both houses of the Legislature in November for the first time in more than a century. Nobody knew what an era of conservative control would mean for the state. As the dust settles, lobbyists offer their grades on the outcome of the historic, 120-day legislative session.
Grade: A, according to Seth Rau of Nevada Succeeds, an education policy group backed by the state’s business community.
The session was absolutely the education session that Gov. Brian Sandoval promised, Rau said. Of the 26 school-related priorities that Sandoval laid out in his State of the State speech in January, all but one of them came to fruition.
“I would give the governor and superintendent the credit for the perfect balance of investing in education and reforming,” Rau said.
It will probably 6 to 8 years to see the returns from investments in Zoom Schools targeting English language learners and Victory Schools for students in poverty, Rau said. He added that it will take time before school choice measures such as education savings accounts sink in, but he expects major growth in the number of charter and private schools in the next five years.
“Changing education takes time,” he said.
Grade: C, according to Reno-Sparks Chamber lobbyist Tray Abney.
“I feel like they got half their job done,” Abney said. “This was the opportunity of a lifetime with Republicans in Assembly and Senate and governor’s office to get some of these things done.”
Abney lauded legislators for approving a bevy of K-12 education expansions, but said that Republicans in leadership should have pushed harder for changes to collective bargaining and the public employee retirement system.
A number of changes to tort law, including a much-debated bill targeting frivolous construction defects lawsuits early in the session, will help businesses expand without the fear of undeserved lawsuits, he said.
“Taxes take up the front page,” he said. “For economic development, a legal environment that does not encourage frivolous lawsuits is also important.”
Grade: B, according to Kyle Davis, a consultant for the Nevada Conservation League.
The session could have been a lot worse, Davis said, pointing to a bill backed by rancher Cliven Bundy that demanded the federal government turn over virtually all the land it manages within the state’s borders.
“It was blatantly unconstitutional,” Davis said. “I don’t think for the most part that people believed people would go anywhere with the Bundy bill.”
While that proposal died, lawmakers did vote on party lines to pass SJR1, a resolution urging Congress to turn over more than 7.2 million acres of land in an initial phase. The Conservation League opposed that measure. But it supported SJR2, which asked Congress to share with Nevada some of the revenue from economic activities on public lands.
Grade: A, according to Keith Lynam of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.
“I thought it was great — great for homeowners, great for Realtors,” Lynam said. “I think we addressed things that have long been unaddressed.”
Lynam singled out education funding as the top accomplishment of the session, noting that homebuyers seek out neighborhoods with great schools and are turned away by sagging education rankings.
Homeowners also scored a victory when lawmakers reversed course on a plan to immediately wind down the state’s foreclosure mediation program, he said. It will now run for at least two more years.
“It was wise to discuss it,” Lynam said. “But it also took clearer heads to say we have a little ways to go.”
CONSERVATIVE DREAMS DASHED:
Grade: D, according to Victor Joecks of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute.
The Legislature took several small steps, Joecks said, but he still gave low marks to lawmakers due in large part to Republican support for the governor’s historic tax increase.
Joecks said Republican lawmakers didn’t go far enough to support changes to collective bargaining and public employee pensions, which triggered a fierce backlash over the last several months.
“This session was a huge missed opportunity to really enact reforms that will really impact taxpayers in the future,” he said. “This was the best chance in the last 20 years to enact these changes.”