By Michelle L. Price
LAS VEGAS — Nevada lawmakers have agreed to let voters decide next year whether to amend the state constitution to recognize same-sex marriages, add a voters’ bill of rights and overhaul the state board of pardons.
The measures are among a handful of proposed changes to the Nevada Constitution that lawmakers took on during their legislative session this year.
Like most states, it isn’t easy to amend Nevada’s constitution. Changes can either come from a citizen-driven ballot initiative, which would need to be approved by voters twice, or from the Legislature. Any proposal from lawmakers to amend the constitution must be approved by the Legislature two sessions in a row, and then approved by voters on the ballot.
Here’s a look at proposed constitutional changes that Nevada lawmakers approved this year:
Lawmakers approved for the second time an amendment to repeal an unenforceable ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution. The amendment would instead require the state and local governments to recognize all marriages regardless of gender. It would also give religious organizations and clergy members the right to refuse to perform a marriage. Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui says the amendment is removing “outdated language that discriminates against love.” Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the proposal this year, and voters will get to weigh in on the change in November 2020.
A voters’ bill of rights that’s already part of state law would be strengthened and harder to change under an amendment that would add the bill of rights to Nevada’s constitution. The bill of rights guarantees voters can have their votes recorded accurately, their questions about voting procedures answered and can cast their ballots without intimidation or coercion, among other rights. Lawmakers approved the change in their 2017 session and again this year, sending it to voters in 2020.
STATE BOARD OF PARDONS
Lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment addressing the state Board of Pardons Commissioners, which consists of the governor, supreme court justices and attorney general and has the power to grant pardons or commute sentences. The amendment would take away the governor’s veto power over the board’s decision and require the commission to meet at least once every three months. Supporters say the changes will ensure that prisoners or convicts do not have to wait many months before the board considers their case and ensures the board makes a decision instead of giving the governor outsized power. The amendment was first approved in 2017 and now goes before voters.
BOARD OF REGENTS
A measure to amend the constitution to give the Nevada Legislature more control over the state’s colleges and universities won approval for the second session in a row, sending the measure to voters in 2020. The proposal removes the Board of Regents from the state constitution, allowing lawmakers to make changes to the state’s higher education system without having to go through the five-year process of approving changes twice and then putting them before voters.
Lawmakers this year overwhelmingly approved a proposal from Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro to amend the state constitution to bar discrimination based on sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and other traits. A few lawmakers said they worried that the bill, which was introduced four days before the session ended, needed more time and discussion so they could consider exactly what impact the change might make. But most lawmakers voted for the measure anyway, saying they felt that when it comes up for its second approval in 2021, they’d have much more time to vet the measure.
MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE
Nevada’s minimum wage is two-tiered, with workers who have health insurance benefits currently receiving $7.25 an hour and those without health benefits receiving $8.25. Nevada lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Steve Sisolak raising those rates, but they also approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate the two-tiered system. Under the amendment, Nevada’s new minimum wage would be $12. The wage could be raised if the federal government raises the national minimum wage and lawmakers could also make changes without having to amend the constitution. The proposal must be approved by state lawmakers again in their 2021 legislative session and then passed by voters in 2022.