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Sisolak signs COVID-19 business liability protection bill

Updated August 11, 2020 - 5:26 pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed into law a bill into that grants most businesses limited liability protections from COVID-19 lawsuits and provides added safety measures for hotel workers, legislation that the governor touted as being “first in the nation.”

In a virtual signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon, Sisolak signed Senate Bill 4,which grants most businesses, government organizations and nonprofits, excluding schools and most health care entities, limited immunity from lawsuits brought by customers or employees who contract COVID-19 provided they adhere to any controlling health measures in effect.

It also requires hotels in Las Vegas and Reno to adopt additional health and safety protocols, such as enhanced cleaning procedures, social distancing, free testing for all workers before returning to work and paid time off for workers in quarantine, among other requirements.

The bill reflects a deal between the resort industry, business associations and Culinary Local 226 struck in order to protect Nevada’s biggest economic driver, and Sisolak said it was “the result of literally months of compromise.”

Hospitals have questioned why they were excluded from the bill, and some Democratic lawmakers questioned why the bill only granted enhanced safety measures for hospitality workers.

“It’s about our state’s economic survival. It’s about acknowledging that Nevada relies heavily on a single industry, the hospitality industry,” Sisolak said. ”And in order to make it through this historic storm, we must ensure that that industry survives.”

Protecting workers

Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary union, said during Tuesday’s event that the law will protect more than 280,000 workers in Clark and Washoe counties.

Argüello-Kline said that the union has had 35 members die from COVID-19, and have more than 300 members hospitalized by the virus.

The Culinary union had sued MGM Resorts earlier this year, accusing the casino company of failing to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. That lawsuit was dropped in late July. On Monday, MGM and the union issued a joint statement celebrating the new legislation and pointing out that the two sides have resolved the lawsuit with passage of the bill in the recent special legislative session.

“We want economic recovery and the return of more employees to the workforce. And we agree, sick employees, exposed guests and the possibility of future closures and economic devastation are in no one’s best interests.,” MGM Resorts CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle said during Tuesday’s signing.

Hospitals left out

SB4 originally excluded only hospitals and most other health care entities from those protections, which drew rebuke from that industry, arguing that the exclusion could lead to capacity issues inside hospitals and make it so visitors would not be allowed inside to visit hospitalized loved ones.

Bill Welch, president and CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association called the passage of the bill “disappointing.”

“Hospitals and health care workers have been on the front lines of COVID-19 since March and not extending premises liability protections to them creates situations that need to be addressed to ensure the safety of patients, employees and hospitals themselves,” Welch said in a statement.

School districts were included in the original bill, but after teachers and their unions voiced concerns about being able to safely return to schools during a late-night hearing that lasted until nearly 3 a.m., school districts were later excluded from those protections as well.

The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature with bipartisan support, but also bipartisan opposition. Progressive and workers rights groups have criticized the legislation for granting liability protections to most businesses and employers while only providing additional health and safety precautions to hotel workers.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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