CARSON CITY — Monday marked a historic day in Nevada as the first female-majority Legislature in the history of the U.S. was sworn into office to kick off the 80th meeting of the Legislature.
“Nevada, the time has come,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in his opening remarks on the Assembly floor. “And women will wait no more.”
Of the 63 members of the Nevada Legislature, a majority, 32, are women, a feat never before seen in the U.S. The historical weight was not lost on the lawmakers, many of whom spoke about the feat and what it means for Nevada.
Assembly Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, praised the women who lighted the path that led Nevada to this point.
“Our foremothers, Speaker (Barbara) Buckley and (Marilyn) Kirkpatrick, along with scores of dozens of other female legislators, have cleared a path for us. A path that we will now walk,” Benitez-Thompson said. “Our journey will be embedded in strength and hard work, and we will make this state and our nation proud.”
Senate President and Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, after gaveling the chamber to order, also acknowledged the “historical precedence of this year’s session, with the Nevada becoming the first state in the union to have a female majority Legislature,” as well as a female majority on the state Supreme Court and equal representation among state constitutional officers.
“I hope with this moment in our state’s history, every young person across Nevada, regardless of race, education, socioeconomic status … can look to us and see themselves and think, ‘I can be a legislator. I could be here. I could be a leader,’” Marshall said.
Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, also cited the historic session and a “truly historic display of diversity in the Legislature,” adding that he sees an “opportunity to show our state that in spite of our many differences, we can be civil, united on Nevada’s most pressing needs, and yes, build maybe new friendships.”
Frierson, who was formally elected as speaker for the second consecutive session Monday, laid out many of the Democratic majority’s priorities for the 120-day session, which comes every two years, many of which mirrored those of new Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Frierson said they would work on legislation banning bump stocks and finding a solution to implement the background check initiative approved by Nevada voters in 2016, on modernizing the state’s education formula and providing more tools for teachers. He pledged to work on protecting women’s health care rights, reforming the criminal justice system and ensuring that Nevada maintains a “healthy environment for small businesses.”
“I pledge to work with Gov. Sisolak as a trusted ally and partner,” Frierson said.
Just one bill passed muster on Monday, with lawmakers authorizing the bill that approves funding for the 2019 Legislature. Lawmakers in both the Assembly and Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1 authorizing $15 million for the session, which ends at midnight June 3.
The bill is always the first approved by legislators, as it goes towards paying salaries for lawmakers and staff.
The Assembly also read 117 bills into the record and referred them to various committees, while the Senate did so with 129 bills.
Referring to his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, Atkinson said the two men “couldn’t be more different” but have “worked together on many issues in the spirit of making Nevada better.”
Settelmeyer said after adjournment that he and Atkinson “were able to work prior to session and this first day of session toward ensuring that it was a unanimous bipartisan day.”
“That’s what we hope the session will be, is working in a bipartisan fashion to address both sides’ concerns,” he added. “I really hope that we get to work. Let’s get going.”
Atkinson, in his opening floor remarks, called out several issues important to his caucus, including school safety, affordable housing, and addressing homelessness, especially among youth and the LGBTQ community.
He said later that he is excited about his first session with a Democrat in the governor’s office.
“I’ve been here 17 years, and now I have the opportunity to have my party control both chambers and the Governor’s Mansion at the same time,” he said. “We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some folks with some ambitious agendas.”
But ambition won’t lead to undoing work done in 2017, when then-Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed dozens of bills.
Both Atkinson and Frierson said the Legislature would not try to override vetoes from the 2017 session. Atkinson said an override push would stir up ill will and noted that Senate Democrats don’t have the necessary two-thirds majority for an override.
He said it would be easier for Democrats to offer new bills on the previously vetoed items.
“I have been trying to set the tone that we want to be able to cooperate and get along with our colleagues — It’s something that’s been missing in this building for a little while now,” he said. “Doing something like (the veto overrides) creates a negative tone in the building to start the session.”
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