As is the case every two years, R&R’s Nevada GPA team was deployed to Carson City for the Nevada Legislative Session.
And while this in now way comparable to the troops to who protect our freedoms daily, whose service we can never repay – we can in some ways relate to what it’s like to spend several months away from home, on a mission to protect our clients and what we believe in. And we did go through quite a few battles in the process.
The 78th Regular Session of the Nevada Legislature began February 2, 2015 and concluded in the early morning hours of June 2. Throughout the session, the Assembly introduced 498 bills and the Senate introduced 515 bills, for a total of 1,013 for the Legislature to consider.
The 2014 general election had a strong impact on the 2015 session. While the “red wave” caused an unprecedented number of Republicans across the country to be elected, Nevada experienced some of the highest turnover in the nation. For the first time since 1929, Nevada has a Republican Governor and Republican control of both Houses.
The makeup of the Legislature became very important since the main priority of the Governor, most of Legislative leadership, and much of the business community was to raise additional revenue to ensure that education and essential services were properly funded. With a two-thirds supermajority required to pass any revenue or tax proposal, the Senate needed 14 votes of its 21 members, and the Assembly needed 28 votes from its total of 42 members.
During the State of the State speech, the Governor presented his vision for a “New Nevada,” declaring education to be a top priority, outlining reforms and calling for a significant tax increase to fund those reforms. Consequently, the session primarily focused on various K-12 education reforms, including: expanding school choice; improving under-performing schools; increasing English Language Learner (ELL) programs; creating a “read by three” program; enhancing teacher incentives and professional development; reducing class sizes; and expanding breakfast in the classroom, among others. The 2015 Legislative Session was historic due to passage of a nearly $7.4 billion budget with between $1.3 and $1.4 billion in additional revenue with a focus on investing in education.
The Nevada Revenue Plan, the Governor’s compromise tax plan, blended elements of the many different proposals considered during the session. The new plan sets the Business License Fee at $500 for corporations and $200 for all other businesses, increases the Modified Business Tax to 1.475 percent of the total wages paid by businesses that exceed $50,000 quarterly, and increases the payroll tax on mining companies to 2 percent. It also enacts Nevada’s Commerce Tax, applicable to businesses whose Nevada revenue exceeds $4 million annually, but allows a 50 percent deduction of the Commerce Tax for businesses which also pay the MBT.
One of the major issues of the session was whether or not transportation network companies (“TNCs”) such as Uber and Lyft could legally operate in Nevada. Met with strong opposition from the heavily-represented cab companies, the Uber lobbyists were ultimately successful in legalizing TNCs, with widespread support from Nevada residents and bipartisan support from Legislators.
The GPA team hit the ground running, covering several hundred bills for approximately 25 clients during the course of the session.
A few highlights include:
Passing laws to help children…
One of Governor Sandoval’s signature legislative priorities this session was strengthening Nevada’s anti-bullying laws. The Governors proposal created the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment within the Nevada Department of Education, established a 24-hour hotline to report incidents of bullying, and imposes strict requirements on school officials to investigate and report bullying. The budget allocates $16 million for a grant program for schools to provide a social worker in each school to help carry out the new provisions, while a companion bill created the “Safe to Tell Program” which requires the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment to establish a program enabling any person to anonymously report any dangerous, violent, or unlawful activity which is being conducted or threatened to be conducted on the property of a public school.
Passing laws to help animals…
To create consistency with federal guidelines, Nevada limited the state definition of “service animal” to conform to the federal definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only dogs or, under certain circumstances, miniature horses can qualify as service animals under this definition. This prevents people from seeking to bring animals ranging from cats to pythons into hotels and casinos and claiming that they must be allowed to do so because they are service animals.
Even passing laws on ourselves…
The legislature also placed significant limitations on lobbying expenditures. The bill prohibits (effective January 1, 2016) a lobbyist from making a gift to a member of the Legislative Branch or a member of his or her immediate family, whether or not the Legislature is in session. “Gift” is very broadly defined to include “any payment, conveyance, transfer, distribution, deposit, advance, loan, forbearance, subscription, pledge or rendering of money, services or anything else of value, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received.”