Reporting by Emily Driscoll
Graphic by Mercedes Zhou
Las Vegas, NV - This year, Nevada’s legislators are tasked with alleviating harrowing circumstances around police violence, a public health crisis, and the harsh economic circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevada’s 81st legislative session began February 1st and will continue until May 31st of this year. While Nevada’s legislators vote on which bills become law, Nevadans have the final say if they participate in the session. Unfortunately, while voter turnout was high this year, the legislative session will likely see a small fraction of Nevadans representing their concerns before their state representatives.
Participation in the Legislature is sometimes challenging. Fortunately, the 81st legislative session offers a few different ways to participate, all of which are virtual. Here, we breakdown legislative engagement:
First, we have compiled many of the URLs you’ll need to participate at www.linktr.ee/NVLeg. Second, we walk you through how to connect with the legislature and share your views with legislators. Third, we breakdown some of the bills you will want to watch and weigh-in on and why it matters.
How to Connect
Constituents can call-in to public comment sections to give testimony that supports a bill, opposes a bill, or is in a neutral position. The legislature allows for English and Spanish testimony. The legislature also provides services for languages other than English or Spanish upon request.
To find comprehensive information about bills, Nevadans should make an account with NELIS. NELIS is the Nevada Legislature’s software. It allows constituents to research issues that are important to them. NELIS allows users on free accounts to track up to ten bills. Tracking a bill helps a user stay informed on meetings and votes on important issues via email notifications.
Because in-person participation is paused for the 2021 session due to the pandemic, legislators have doubled-down on checking their emails and social media accounts. If a constituent cannot attend a public comment section, they can email, Tweet, or Facebook message their representatives about their positions on specific bills. Legislators listen to their constituents’ positions. Enough testimony in a particular direction can sway a legislator’s vote. With so many important issues at hand, constituent participation in the legislative session is crucial.
Bills to Watch
Senator Dallas Harris is presenting legislation to amend qualified immunity, a law that gives police immunity to civil suit. Qualified immunity prevents victims and families from receiving compensation for injuries or death that result from police violence. Qualified immunity makes it difficult for victims to see justice even in criminal convictions for officers who murder civilians. Assembly Bill 157 will make it easier for victims of police violence to receive reparations. Amending state laws on qualified immunity means more than just one-off justice in the form of financial compensation for people who are harmed or killed by police and their families. Amending qualified immunity means that police in Nevada will know that their actions have consequences. Nevada law currently protects officers from criminal and civil liability for misconduct and even murder. Passing Assembly Bill 157 would mean that laws on the books tell police that violence and murder have consequences.
Criminal justice and police reform are reigning supreme this session. Senate Bill 50 proposes restricting the use of no-knock warrants, the same type of warrant that Louisville police used to break into Breonna Taylor’s apartment only moments before they murdered her. Assembly Bill 113 would require de-escalation training for police. Assembly Bill 131 proposes mandatory body cameras for uniformed and plain-clothes officers.
What are the Stakes?
While some Nevada legislators present reform bills, other Nevada legislators wish to increase protections for police. Assembly Bill 92 allows police to sue civilians for an injury in the line of duty. Passage of 92 could mean unnecessary liability for protesters, drivers, and countless categories of civilians who may come in contact with the police. The bill is especially harmful to victims of police violence, who could be held civilly liable for even a minor injury incurred by their assailant. Assembly Bill 127 proposes hiding police identity from civilians who they are meant to serve. Passage of 127 means lowered accountability for police officers who murder or assault civilians. The legislative session will also see a slew of bills that increase criminalization for several crimes. Many of the most important bills for this legislative session are yet to come.
This legislative session presents countless life-altering issues. Participation from Nevadans is more crucial than ever. Now, https://linktr.ee/NVLeg serves as a resource for constituents who would like to know more about the session. The linktree serves as a mini-guide to legislative information, including NELIS registration, decoding legislative terms, a resource to help you find your representatives, a link to the Nevada Legislature’s YouTube, and more.