Mary Lau: The 81st Legislative Session

The 81st Nevada Legislative Session was like nothing we’ve ever seen and something we never want to see again. Between the restrictions created due to the pandemic, a growing divide between the political parties, and the new dynamic of the Democrats’ progressive wing, the business community was lucky to reach sine die with the minimal bumps and scratches we received.

The most obvious challenge this year was navigating a legislative session without the ability to enter the legislative building for in-person meetings until the final weeks. Technology became a critical ally and, at times, a bitter enemy, as we navigated bill presentations and testimonies by Zoom and phone calls. Many legislators we have successfully worked with in the past were impossible to nail down remotely. The good news, after May 20th it was business as usual in the legislature (if you don’t count the mandatory masks, COVID tests and verified vaccinations). We expect the legislature to return to normal for the 82nd Legislative Session in 2023.

Pandemic aside, based on state and national trends, we knew to expect a record session for party-line votes and growing division between the parties. This pattern of partisanship is not new in Nevada, and it was acerbated by the lawsuit and subsequent ruling that the taxes extended in 2019 without a two-thirds vote violated the Nevada Constitution. This ruling has not changed the behavior of Nevada Democratic leaders; in fact, they seem to only be sorry they were caught. We’re continuing to watch Democrat leaders systematically probe and challenge more areas of the state constitution, including sections about sales tax and voter ballot initiatives.

The most surprising twist of 2021 was the emergence of the progressive agenda within the Democratic Party. Equal parts terrifying and humorous, Nevada Assembly Democrats tried to maintain a united front, only to have impromptu mutinies on the Assembly floor over legislation that was supposed to be an easy pass for Democrats. Many amendments were radical and downright shocking, but occasionally progressives would join Republicans in their opposition (but for very different reasons) to gut a bill or change its trajectory.

Across the board, the RAN Team successfully navigated the tumultuous waters of this legislative session and all its challenges. At the beginning we were concerned about the expansive anti-business agenda being proposed, and while we did not stop everything, in many cases we were able to work with bill sponsors and stakeholders to limit harmful legislation. The critical takeaway from this session is that we must go on the offensive to stop the growth of this progressive, anti-business agenda, or we may very well watch this session on replay in 2023.