What’s in store during the 2017 Legislative Session? | Voices: Alisa Nave-Worth, and Jodi Stephens
The 79th session of the Nevada Legislature will commence on Feb. 6, 2017. Nevada bucked the national trend and once again gave Democrats control of both houses of the legislature.
With that, the 2017 Legislative Session ushers in a new set of challenges and unknowns. With two new majorities, as well as a host of freshman chairs and freshman legislators, this body will work to pass significant legislation all within a significantly changed national political environment led by President-elect Donald Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford and Speaker Jason Frierson are now positioned to lead the Legislature in a different direction from the historic Republican majorities in 2015.
On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson and Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson will work with Gov. Sandoval to protect Republican priorities passed in the previous session, while all legislative leaders will be tasked to work together to pass critical legislation on behalf of the state.
Nevada will also be in the national spotlight as it negotiates energy policy with an eye toward the future. Be prepared for a broad, sweeping policy conversation regarding energy as both houses have designated special subcommittees on energy — an unprecedented move by both majorities. In addition to a large-scale conversation regarding Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, significant controversy surrounds both rooftop solar policy and large-scale deregulation of Nevada’s energy market. As national energy policy changes in the new federal environment, many will be looking to Western states, in particular Nevada, to set the tone for the future of energy policy.
As Nevada’s economy rebounds, increasing pressure on municipal governments will place Nevada’s property tax policy as a central conversation in the 2017 legislative session. While there appears to be no appetite by the governor, nor by legislative leadership, to significantly alter the 2015 Commerce Tax, increased demand for municipal services will generate a different tax conversation in 2017 that has the potential to impact Nevada’s businesses.
Education will be a dominant issue of the session. It is clear that federal education policy will take a significant departure from the past eight years of the Obama administration. It is within this environment Nevada’s Legislature will re-define education policy in Nevada, with a particular focus on the Education Savings Accounts program and the Achievement School District plan that resulted from a contentious interim session. Nevada’s Education Savings Account program was passed on party lines in the 2015 session and offers parents nearly $5,100 in per-pupil state funds to spend on private school tuition.
Nevada’s ESA law is viewed as one of the most sweeping school choice policies in the country. As national politics favor school choice, Nevada may turn out to a bellwether state on school choice, depending on the outcome of the 2017 legislative session.
Finally, an area that will likely see Democrats and Republicans working together is recreational marijuana. With the passage of Question 2, the ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, the Legislature is required to address the taxation and regulation of marijuana. According to the proponents of Question 2, recreational marijuana is going to be a proverbial cash cow.
They are projecting over $390 million in sales in 2018. How to use this money will be an interesting challenge for Nevada as it is only the eighth state to legalize marijuana.
Nevada’s businesses must be prepared for doing business in a post-marijuana world. This includes how to handle personnel challenges, compliance challenges, and for the hospitality industry—guest-use questions. Question 2 gives little guidance about how the measure applies to employers and the burden will be on trade associations and companies to navigate this new world and seek redress in the Legislature to clarify rights and responsibilities.
The 2017 Legislative Session will provide numerous opportunities for business to help develop regulations and to pursue policies that will have the potential to provide long-term benefits to Nevada’s economy. As with all, the 79th Legislative Session should provide for a productive and memorable session.
Alisa Nave-Worth, shareholder, and Jodi Stephens, senior policy advisor, are with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
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