Nevada’s 2023 legislative session—and two special sessions—are now part of history, perhaps to be remembered best for the enormous amount of money legislators had to spend, and their ultimate decision to use taxpayer dollars to fund a billionaire’s stadium for one of the worst baseball teams in the nation.
Once again, economic-development officials managed to convince a majority of legislators—although none of Washoe County’s Assembly members—that diverting public funds to a billionaire’s pocket makes sense. Unions leaned hard on legislators to support the stadium’s construction jobs, even though unemployment is low, and those tax dollars could have created the same jobs on projects that benefit others beyond a greedy billionaire, such as school renovations or road projects to ease traffic congestion.
Legislators blithely ignored all the sports economists whose studies consistently show the benefits of publicly financed stadiums are always oversold, swallowing the ridiculous argument that somehow Nevada is “different.” As one economist, Victor Matheson, told The Nevada Independent, “The fact that anyone in (Nevada) gave them a dime when the team has literally nowhere else to go is the worst bargaining in the world. Quite honestly, I would have just squeezed them. … It’s not about being friendly to the A’s; it’s about looking out for the taxpayer.”
But Nevada’s economic-development gurus were determined to showcase their poor negotiating skills, even against the backdrop of the Golden Knights’ spectacular Stanley Cup victory, accomplished in a stadium distinguished by no public handout at all.
Nevada’s Legislature also expanded on another disturbing trend—the development of secret legislation far from the public eye, only appearing in bill form during the waning days of the session, when nothing is fully vetted, and the public has little opportunity to weigh in. This tactic was pioneered by the state’s energy monopoly but has now spread to corporate-welfare bills, and even a bill allocating $100 million for the homeless, championed by the lead lobbyist for economic-development giveaways. It’s obvious the bill was designed to benefit a developer rather than the homeless, with the fund located in economic-development coffers instead of Health and Human Services, where professionals could have advised the secret bill drafters that massive shelters have little value when homeless Nevadans lack access to permanent housing and social service supports.
The session had some bright spots, however, including the elimination of the racist practice of “sundown sirens” by creating a $50,000 penalty each time the law is violated. The new law is a reaction to political leaders in Minden-Gardnerville, who continued to flaunt the twice-daily siren despite a 2021 law calling for an end to the practice, claiming it wasn’t a “get out of town by sundown” signal to non-white people, but rather a way to celebrate first responders. This painful reminder of our state’s history of racial discrimination won’t be missed.
Nevada will now extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months, joining 32 other states in recognizing the crisis of maternal mortality and the need to improve access to reproductive health care. And in keeping with Nevada’s libertarian “live and let live” views, Gov. Joe Lombardo broke with his Republican counterparts throughout the nation by prohibiting insurance companies from denying medically necessary coverage for trans Nevadans.
But Lombardo succumbed to the Republican mania against even the mildest of gun-reform measures, vetoing a trio of modest gun-violence prevention efforts, including raising the age for purchase of an assault weapon from 18 to 21. Republicans opposed the measures before they were even heard, contributing absolutely nothing toward solving one of our country’s most pressing concerns.
Some of the Legislature’s finest work involved letting a few bad bills die. Chief among them was the $4 billion film-production giveaway, which was apparently too large of a handout for even Nevada’s Legislature to swallow. Legislators also killed Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and Councilmember Devon Reese’s bid to derail ward voting. Democrats invested decades of work in changing the system to support ward voting, and legislators with long memories weren’t about to backtrack to benefit one councilmember’s re-election.
Barring any more special sessions, it’s over now until 2025, when we can expect even more requests for corporate handouts and continued stalling on solutions to critical problems, like the dismal state of children’s mental-health care. That’s the “Nevada way,” after all.