Lawmakers are back in Carson City for the second special session in less than two weeks. The first gathering focused on the coronavirus budget crater. This latest session can best be described as Democrats scrambling to cover there rears with an election approaching.
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s proclamation limits lawmakers to a handful of topics, including criminal justice reform, eviction laws, election procedures, unemployment insurance snafus and pandemic liability protection. Lawmakers also have the power to consider resolutions. None of these issues is particularly pressing — outside the unemployment fiasco, perhaps — that it couldn’t wait until February. But with state and national balloting just three months off — the majority next year will control redistricting — the temptation for Democrats to score points with their far-left base heading into November is obviously too much to resist.
Sure enough, lawmakers wasted little time offering a case study in why Nevadans have consistently opposed a full-time Legislature as a safeguard against chicanery. The sheer political brazenness on display during the opening days of the session was a sight to behold.
Let’s start with the mining tax. After failing to win enough votes during the first special session to jack up the levy, legislative Democrats on Friday unveiled two separate resolutions to amend the Nevada Constitution in order to extract more revenue from the mining industry. One of the proposals is clearly designed to buy voter support because it sets up a system that would provide annual checks to Nevadans based on mining tax collections. As the Nevada Taxpayers Association notes, however, the plan would create all sorts of unintended consequences for local governments, particularly in rural counties, because it redirects most mining tax proceeds to the state.
More devious is a provision in the resolutions that would undermine the two-thirds requirement for tax hikes, which was overwhelmingly approved by Nevadans twice during the 1990s as the Gibbons Tax Restraint Initiative. Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have long chafed under the restraint because it makes it more difficult for them to get their hands on other people’s money. But, to date, they haven’t dared take the political risk of pushing to kill or weaken the supermajority requirement. Under their constitutional proposals, however, the two-thirds threshold would apply only to a mining tax repeal or reduction, not to a mining tax increase. It’s a willful and shameless distortion of the intent of the tax restraint amendment.
The criminal justice reform duplicity is even more egregious. During the 2019 session, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, a Las Vegas Democrat who moonlights as a Clark County prosecutor, sponsored Senate Bill 242, which made it even more difficult to discipline problem police officers. The measure passed easily. A year later, however, in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, police reform dominates the headlines and Ms. Cannizzaro is in a tight re-election battle. Thus, Nevadans are treated during this session to the spectacle of watching Ms. Cannizzarro disappear into the witness protection program while legislative Democrats rush to repeal aspects of their own bill in order to protect the Senate majority leader and to appease their progressive base.
Yes, criminal justice reform is a worthwhile endeavor — and SB242 stands as a monument to why the state constitution’s prohibition against public employees serving in the Legislature must be enforced. But the topic is wide-ranging and deserves serious debate, not a choreographed political production designed to insulate a powerful Democrat from the consequences of her own agenda.
Finally, majority Democrats in the Assembly on Friday passed Assembly Bill 4, an election reform measure designed to boost their party in November. It includes a toxic provision that allows special-interest groups to “harvest” mail-in ballots, undermining the secret ballot and creating numerous opportunities for deceit. Do progressives support any measures designed to ensure the integrity of the vote? Had someone suggested five years ago a system in which political canvassers were allowed to go door to door and then turn in vote tallies to the county registrar for counting, he’d have been dismissed as daft. Today, who would be surprised to see liberal activists line up behind such a scheme under the guise of “expanding ballot access”?
Doctors are familiar with the admonition, “First, do no harm.” Nevada’s legislative Democrats, by contrast, seem quite oblivious to the advice.