Nevada Senate panel endorses worker lawsuit bill

An Assembly bill ensuring state workers aren't barred from filing federal discrimination lawsuits against Nevada was endorsed Thursday by a key Senate panel.

The Judiciary Committee sent AB341 to the Senate floor for a final legislative test, with Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, casting the only "no" vote.

McGinness said he was concerned about the potential fiscal impact of the bill, which says the state can be held liable for discrimination under federal legislation such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a Judiciary hearing Wednesday, union leaders, civil rights activists and other proponents of the bill argued federal civil rights and fair labor laws should apply to the state just as they do to private companies.

But the state attorney general's office said Nevada already has its own laws that parallel many of the federal laws, and AB341 could force the office to hire new lawyers and cost the state nearly $2 million a year.

Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, pushed for the legislation in response to the plight of a Nevada welfare worker fired in 1997 after missing work for months on end.

William Hibbs was caring for his ailing wife, and claimed reverse discrimination after the state denied his request for additional time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Nevada contended Congress had overstepped its bounds with the 1993 law and that it was immune to Hibbs' suit under the U.S. Constitution. The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in January. A decision is pending.

In other action Thursday, Senate Judiciary:

--Approved AB163, an Assembly-approved measure that would impose big fines and long prison terms on people convicted of corporate crimes in Nevada.

Under Assemblyman David Goldwater's bill, someone who destroys paper or electronic documents to hide illegal activities or hinder an investigation into such activities could face fines up to $500,000 and prison terms of up to 20 years.

Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, said the proposal would help protect investors who otherwise might lose all their savings to white-collar criminals.

In approving Goldwater's measure, Senate Judiciary amended into it wording from SB298, which would raise fees for resident agents and create a new business entity with lawsuit liabiity protections.

SB298 already was approved in the Senate and now is Assembly Taxation, which is considering a rival bill, AB281, that jacks up costs of incorporating a business in Nevada. The Nevada Resident Agents Association favors SB298 and opposes AB281.

--Revised and approved AB156, which reinstates the plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" in criminal cases. Lawmakers removed the plea in 1995 at the request of prosecutors, replacing it with a plea of "guilty but mentally ill." But in 2001 the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the move violated the United States and Nevada constitutions.

The court held that plea was a violation of due process because a person could be convicted of a crime even if they didn't have the intention to commit it.

The bill also establishes guidelines for detaining and treating people acquitted because they're mentally ill.


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