2021 Nevada Legislature kicks off in Carson City as budget challenges loom

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (KLAS) — The 81st Legislative Session started Monday in Carson City, with all eyes on the state’s budget in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

8 News Now was the only local station on the ground at the state capitol. The session kicked off with traditional pomp and circumstance, as well as COVID tests.

A good portion of the session will be virtual.

The pandemic’s devastating effects on the Nevada economy continue to drive much of the agenda for state lawmakers, who convened in a special session over the summer to address emergencies in funding.


Nevada State Senate:

The big topic for the Legislature is how to pay for state services with money we don’t have because of lost revenue during the pandemic. 8 News Now asked leadership if new taxes are on the table.

“Whether it’s social justice or revenue, I think that we’re going to have to deal with those and struggle with some of those areas where we might not agree, but also being willing to find some common ground and compromises,” said Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson.

“We have a very antiquated tax system and a very complicated tax system,” said Republican Minority Leader Robin Titus. “Do we need to have an overview of the Nevada tax system? Absolutely.”

Democrats will need to compromise if they end up wanting to raise taxes. They lost their super majority in November, meaning they need some Republicans to peel over and vote with them when it comes to any tax issues.

Some Republicans want to look at the governor’s executive power, specifically when it comes to the shutdown we saw last year and the restrictions we are in now.

“And I think the tough part, frankly, is that the Legislature is only here 120 days every other year. And so of course, we work with the governor, of course we’re making sure we’re part of those conversations,” said Leader Nicole Cannizzaro of Clark County, a Democrat. “So, I commend him for being in a really impossible situation.”

Republican Assemblyman Tom Roberts, of Clark County, expressed, “It is an awful lot of power in one branch of government, and there needs to be some kind of checks and balances.” It’s not a dig on this governor or any other. It could be another party that could be in the governor’s mansion, but I believe it involves all branches of our government to be involved.”

The word of the day — compromise.

That’s something we heard from newly-elected Assemblywoman Annie Black. The Clark County Republican attended former President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, taking photos and videos. She was also at the protest outside the U.S. Capitol, but didn’t go inside. Some Democrats had called for her to resign, but she told 8 News Now she’s been welcomed with open arms.

“They respect my First Amendment right of free speech,” said Black, “and I didn’t break any laws, so that’s what they’re telling me. So that’s all I know.”

The Legislature opened up with two open seats. One senator works for the Biden Administration; another resigned his assembly seat. Clark County commissioners are set to fill those vacancies tomorrow.

Nevada State Assembly:

The State Assembly started a little later than its 11 a.m. schedule, with the swearing-in of new members and the oath of office for all members of the Assembly. The State Senate began session a little after 1 p.m.

State Sen. Patricia Spearman, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in late December, delivered the invocation as the Senate session began.

While many of the traditional activities on opening day were set aside with the pandemic, ceremonial actions to welcome new members and follow longstanding procedures went ahead — but without the usual gallery of observers. Families and lobbyists were not there, and media presence was a fraction of normal levels.

Unlike the special sessions held last summer, the Legislature is offering those permitted in the building rapid tests, hoping to prevent an outbreak that could slow proceedings.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak issued a statement as lawmakers convened:

“The budget I recently presented reflects the emergency we are currently in. There’s nothing traditional or customary about fighting through and emerging from a global pandemic, catastrophic personal and financial consequences, business shutdowns, and what continues to be unknown territory. But as I said in my State of the State address, we are forging a new path forward. Nevada is and always will be determined, resilient, and strong.  

I look forward to a strong partnership with the Legislature during this session – including returning and new members. We are still in the midst of this pandemic and subsequent crises that have been created. There is no doubt this past year has looked different, and our path forward will look different too, including the 81st Legislative Session. To meet this historic moment, we must commit to work together and focus on legislation that creates jobs, provides immediate assistance and long-term recovery, and improves outcomes for all Nevadans. 

As I said in my State of the State, Nevadans have always shown grit in the face of adversity, and I’m confident we’ll recover from this crisis. The resilience of Nevadans should never be doubted.” 

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s prepared remarks at the beginning of the session:

Welcome to the 81st Session of the Nevada Legislature. I want to take a moment to thank you all for allowing me to lead this chamber. Please know that I don’t take this position for granted and I remain humbled and grateful to serve you, my fellow legislators and the hardworking people of Nevada who call our great state home.

I congratulate and welcome our new legislators: Assemblywoman Anderson, Assemblywoman Black, Assemblywoman Considine, Assemblywoman Gonzalez, Assemblywoman Kasama, Assemblywoman Marzola, Assemblyman Matthews, Assemblyman Miller, Assemblyman Orentlicher, Assemblywoman Summers-Armstrong, and Assemblywoman Thomas.

You became a member of this body under some of the most unprecedented times and Nevadans need us to step up in ways that are also unprecedented. This will require sacrifice, hard work, setting aside differences and working together for the common good.

To our returning legislators – I know you all stepped up to make the tough decisions last year to help your constituents through one of the most troubling times. Your commitment and your sacrifice to Nevada has not gone unnoticed.

It should never be lost on this body that it is a privilege the voters have afforded us to serve in this building. As we have seen in recent months, our democracy is only as strong as our weakest link. We have sworn an oath to protect that democracy and uphold the institution in which you now serve. I urge you to never take for granted the halls you walk down as giants have come before us. While some may say this building, an ode to the legendary architecture of the 1970’s–it’s just a brick and mortar, but I believe that because it is dedicated to doing the people’s business, it is Nevada’s secular temple.

We are here for a legislative session our predecessors would have never imagined. A global pandemic that as of late January has left over 26 million ill and has cost over 439,000 Americans their lives. Just here in Nevada, at least 1 out of every 12 Nevadans have contracted the virus and we have lost over 4,200 fellow Nevadans. In Nevada and across the country, COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death. The numbers are not statistics alone, they are lost family members–someone’s child, someone’s spouse, someone’s friend.

I offer a moment of silence to honor all the Nevadans we have lost. Please join me.

While facing an ongoing public health crisis we also were left with the devastating economic impacts of COVID-19. For a state like ours that is largely dependent on tourism, Nevada’s economy was hit especially hard. For the first time in 60 years, the most famous street in the world shut down.

At its peak, Nevada saw a 30% unemployment rate last April with a job loss that nearly reached 97,000 last year. We must work to get those Nevadans back on the job and continue to make sure those out of work get the unemployment benefits they deserve.

Many of us were just here this summer cutting $1.2 billion from our $4 billion budget. Just this past fall, 15% of Nevadans were facing housing insecurity, 290,000 Nevadans facing food insecurity, forcing thousands to choose between the most basic necessities or go without. Local, state and federal leaders, including those in this body, took the charge to keep people in their homes, and businesses and our non-profit community helped families pay for utilities, food, and internet access. We pulled together as Nevadans always have in tough times.

However, this pandemic has clearly shown us a widening gap of haves and have-nots that cannot be ignored. For anyone who was struggling prior to the start of the pandemic, they are in desperate circumstances. COVID-19 has exposed the deep cracks we have continued to put bandaids on and we simply MUST do better.

This session, I call on all of us to leave behind partisan rhetoric, to leave behind old playbooks, to leave behind business as usual. While our budget this biennium is not as worrisome as we had expected, we are still asking our state agencies and the Nevadans who work in those agencies, to do more with so much less. We need bi-partisan solutions and a state government whose budget leaves no one behind. I have been a member of this body long enough to not have on rose colored glasses and I know there will be differences of opinion, ideology, and policy, but as the saying goes, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Nevadans are looking to us to lead them to the light at the end of the tunnel. We must have vigorous debate about expanding access to affordable health care, putting our schools and our kids back on track, getting folks back to work, helping our small businesses get back on their feet, and yes, closing corporate tax loopholes, so that we are securing an economic future for Nevada families that not only gets them through today but for the decades ahead of them.

The Governor recently highlighted his plan to build a strong economy, welcoming new industries to our state, prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future, increase development of a clean energy infrastructure to not only create jobs but also lead us down a path that modernizes Nevada, and build a government that improves efficiencies, rewards results, and leaves no one behind. I stand ready to work with him, not because he is the Democratic Governor, but because he is Nevada’s Governor.

I urge you all to stand with me and let us leave this state better than we found it, not for our own legacies, but to expand opportunities for those who will come after us.

We gavel in here today with a legislative session and an institution that has never operated like this before. I want to take a moment to thank our incredible staff who have gone above and beyond to help this institution do the people’s work while maintaining the health and safety of all involved. Thank you.

Again, thank you for allowing me the honor to serve as Speaker of this body. I am committed to fighting for our Nevadans and as late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Join me – let us bridge the divide that separates us and come together as one Nevada. Thank you.

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