By Michelle L. Price
LAS VEGAS — As the dust settles on Nevada’s Legislative session, the buffet of progressive laws passed by the Democrat-controlled, female-majority Legislature has been hailed as an example by the party’s presidential candidates and others on the left.
Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have tweeted praise for Nevada lawmakers and The New Republic magazine recently declared Nevada to be “The State That Liberal Dreams Are Made Of.”
The state’s 2019 legislative session marked the first time in nearly three decades that Democrats in the swing state controlled the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers. With that expanded power, they passed measures to ease some abortion rules, create a state government office to welcome immigrants and increase the state’s use of renewable energy, among other initiatives.
It marked a stark change in power from the most recent session in 2017, when the then-Republican governor nearly set a state record for vetoes with his rejections of Democratic bills when the Democrats held a legislative majority. Republicans had a Nevada state political trifecta in 2015, controlling both the governorship and the Legislature.
Fred Lokken, chair of the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, said Republicans in 2015 swung far enough right that Democrats campaigned against that and took power. He said that while Republicans next year may try to do the same, he thinks Democrats stuck to a moderate approach this year that, along with their voter registration advantage, should help them retain power.
That control after the 2020 U.S. Census will have an outsized influence on the state’s politics for the following decade as lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional districts.
“Democrats didn’t want to screw that up. And I don’t think that they did,” Lokken said.
Democratic Senate Majority Nicole Cannizzaro denied that concerns about swinging too far left drove the party’s approach, saying bills that emerged from the Legislature reflected input from voices around the state.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said he felt the bills that passed struck a middle ground.
“Obviously, we have progressive partners who wanted more. We had folks across the aisle that wanted far less,” he said.
Lawmakers tackled a progressive wish list and delivered to Gov. Steve Sisolak much of what he called for, including the creation of a new state office to help immigrants, expanded background checks for gun purchases and a ban on bump stock devices that mimic automatic gunfire.
On other issues, Democrats opted to take a more moderate approach or were forced to scale back ambitions to get laws passed.
Sisolak vetoed a proposal broadly supported by Democrats and uniformly opposed by Republicans that would have made the state part of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact calls for states to give their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote instead of the winner of the state.
State workers received a long-sought right to collectively bargain for wages and working conditions. But the law signed by Sisolak does not permit workers to strike and allows the governor to ignore a negotiated agreement and propose in the budget any amount the governor feels is appropriate for wages and benefits.
Despite a push nationally among Democrats and those on the left to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Nevada’s Legislature voted to gradually raise the state minimum wage to $12 hourly.
“For progressives at least, this is just a start,” said Annette Magnus, the executive director of Battle Born Progress, a liberal group that lobbied for bills and coordinated with organizations on the left to build support for legislation.
Magnus cited the increase to $12 as one area where progressives were disappointed but hope to come back and push for $15 in the future.
GOP lawmakers meeting Tuesday at the Republican Men’s Club of Northern Nevada in Reno acknowledged they could not push through their agenda but tried to shape what Democrats put forward.
“We made a lot of things less bad,” said Sen. Ira Hansen, a Republican from Sparks, citing the governor’s veto as an example.
Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner, R- Reno, said the biggest issue for the GOP “is how we are going to keep the Republican seats we have and win more so we are not ever in this position again.”