The 13th week of the Nevada State Legislature’s 80th Session began on Monday, May 6. Typically we have been preparing and emailing these weekly Legislative Alerts at the start of the week, but things were a bit more hectic this week which explains why you’re receiving this on a Thursday instead of a Monday!
On Monday morning, May 6, the Assembly Government Affairs Committee held their first hearing on Senate Bill 224, the Privacy Bill sponsored by Senator Julia Ratti with assistance from RPEN’s Lead Lobbyist Marlene Lockard. Following Lockard’s statement during the first Senate Government Affairs hearing March 1, Lockard was hit April 11 with a formal complaint filed with the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) suggesting she gave false statements. On May 1, LCB’s Director Richard Combs exonerated Lockard, citing the following statement “Although you and others may disagree with the opinion expressed by Ms. Lockard regarding the confidentiality of certain information maintained by PERS, there is no evidence that she offered her concerns as anything other than her opinion”. As a result, Lockard reiterated her comments at the May 6 hearing, as did other proponents of SB 224, many of whom are part of the public employee coalition that meets weekly during the Session. NPRI’s Robert Fellner offered up his continued opposition at the May 6 hearing calling it more government secrecy. In her summary Senator Ratti took issue with NPRI’s allegations of misinformation and deception. Saying she was offended that somehow she, as a legislative official, faced a direct attack on her integrity that could have a chilling effect on the legislative process, simply because she had a lobbyist sitting next to her at the table. She further testified that “sliming a bill as a tactic to kill it is inappropriate and in the long term is going to have a chilling effect on everyone in this body”. She called SB 224 a good bill with a compromise position protecting people who should not be at risk. There was no vote and no date set for additional hearings.
Also on May 6 the Public Employees’ Benefits Program (PEBP) Budget Closing was held before separate hearings of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means following several changes made based on the Governor’s budget amendment suggestions. The 1st proposal approved recommends excess reserves of $9.5 million in Fiscal Year (FY) and $3 million in FY 2021 be used to fund additional one-time HSA/HRA contributions of $400 in FY 2020 and $125 in FY 2021.The Governors’ rec also eliminated a PEBP requirement calling for participants to enroll in Doctor On-Demand and Healthcare Bluebook. For retirees on the Medicare Exchange, both committees also approved increasing contributions to their HRA accounts from $12.00 to $13.00 for each year of service (YOS) up to 20 years, meaning a retiree with 15 YOS would receive $195 per month instead of $180. The cost for this would come from non-state subsidy revenues of $2.8 million in FY 2020 and $2.9 million in FY 2021. Also a uniform 2% increase to the contribution percentages recommended in the Executive Budget was adopted as amended with approximately $6.6 million in additional revenue required in FY 2020 and approximately $6.9 million required in 2021 with around $4 million funded by General Fund appropriations.
Late last week on May 2 during a joint meeting of Senate Finance/Ways and Means Committees approval of the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) budget came as well, giving the agency approval to begin funding of a $34 million dollar upgrade to the agency’s Pension Administration System which is 20 years old and unable to handle the different tiers of benefit participants following several recent Legislative Sessions.
Bigger news came near the end of week 13 when Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said that Democratic Lawmakers had received an opinion from legislative lawyers that two-thirds majority support is not required to remove a scheduled decrease in the state’s payroll tax rate of which the Governor is counting on for around $100 million to cover his proposed 3% COLAs and 2% for merit pay increases for teachers within his proposed budget. However during an Economic Forum held last week no funds from the payroll tax was used in that agency’s $8.8 billion two year budget. Republican lawmakers are already suggesting a lawsuit could be forthcoming which if it happens, might lead to a Special Session, if these differences can’t be worked out before the end of the session, set for June 3.
Finally, RPEN Day 2019, held May 7 at the Legislative Building was a great success. Eleven of our eighteen chapters statewide had representatives in Carson City where we also staged a table with information about RPEN including newsletters featuring a non-member application inside. Many of the staffers during the Legislature are retired public employees and we were able to sign up at least a couple new members with many others looking forward to reading more about us. It was only the second time in our 40+ history of sponsoring an RPEN Day at the Legislature and we look forward to many more to come in the future. Several of our leaders who attended were able to sit on the Senate Floor during the May 7 floor session, and one, Gaye Johnston (Churchill Chapter) was honored with a Proclamation from her Senator, James Settelmyer, honoring her husband Bob Johnston (a two term past State President) who died in 2017. Bob and Gaye worked as lobbyists for RPEN for several legislative sessions.
The session continues to wind down but there are still a lot of bills yet to be heard. In closing this alert, we must mention the Assembly suffered a great loss late last week when District 17 Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson (also an RPEN member) died suddenly early on Saturday morning May 4 at the age of 51. He chaired the Assembly’s Education Committee this session. Services in Clark County are scheduled Friday, May 17 from 2:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. at Victory Baptist Church in Las Vegas at 500 West Monroe Avenue, 89106 with a “Homegoing” service there on Saturday morning May 18 at 11:00 a.m. He will be missed.
Terri Laird, RPEN Executive Director