Patient Protection Commission
On August 17, the Patient Protection Commission (“PPC”) held a meeting to address potential Bill Draft Requests (“BDRs”). One BDR would implement certain telehealth policies to promote an increase in patients’ access to high quality care, while also reducing costs. The BDR would codify telehealth policies implemented during the COVID-19 emergency. The second BDR focuses on implementing transparency measures to enhance patient healthcare experience and state outcomes and help understand data trends. A third potential BDR increasing access to care was discussed.
When the PPC met again on August 31, they focused only on transparency and telehealth BDRs previously discussed. After significant discussion, the Commission decided to focus only on an All Payer Claims Database. The PPC also finalized the language of the telehealth BDR. Both will be submitted to the Legislative Counsel Bureau. The PPC will meet again to discuss each BDR later in September once initial bill language is returned from Legislative Counsel.
On August 17, the Committee to Conduct an Interim Study of Issues Relating to Pretrial Release of Defendants in Criminal Cases met to consider recommendations regarding:
- the Nevada Pretrial Risk Assessment;
- the pretrial release process; data collection;
- citations in lieu of jail;
- rights of victims of crime;
- failure to appear; and
- alternatives to in-person bail hearings.
Most recommendations on the agenda passed. Several will become part of an omnibus bill, while others may be considered individually. The committee is allocated five bill draft requests for the 2021 legislative session. Two recommendations failed to pass:
- Statutorily codifying Marsy’s Law, and
- a 48-hour grace period after a defendant fails to appear before issuing a warrant.
The Legislative Committee on Health Care met on August 19 for the seventh time this interim. The Committee considered two regulations proposed by the State Board of Pharmacy pursuant to NRS 439B.225. The State Board of Pharmacy regulates drugs and controlled substances in Nevada, as well as licensing pharmacists, doctors, and drug wholesalers. The Committee determined that the proposed language describing the grounds for suspension is too vague and needs alteration.
The Committee on Healthcare also received a presentation on air ambulance costs, regulations, and associated health insurance issues.
An overview of adoption assistance for children with special needs in Nevada was recieved. Significant time was focused on children who age out of the system but have not yet graduated from high school.
An update on Assembly Bill 150 (2019) was also discussed regarding parity with federal Title IV-E rules to give the state more flexibility in dealing with foster care maintenance payments and allowable costs.
Additionally, the Committee discussed food insecurity in Nevada and Senate Bill 178 (2019). Food insecurity was also an issue addressed by several state and local programs in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic response. Following COVID-19, the State Department of Agriculture plans to continue to represent Nevada nationally focusing on funding to address food insecurity.
The Interim Finance Committee (“IFC”) met on August 20 to discuss and approve over a hundred gifts, grants, work program revisions and position changes in accordance with Chapter 353 of NRS. These ranged across departments from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation and unemployment insurance to the Department of Health and Human Services and its Health Care Financing and Policy with Nevada Medicaid. The IFC also approved the allocation of funds from the IFC Contingency Account to the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Public Safety, Division of Forestry, and the Governor’s Office of Finance. The IFC also approved and accepted gifts on behalf of the Division of Tourism, Division of Museums and History, and the Division of State Parks.
The Legislative Committee on Energy met August 24 to discuss renewable energy in Nevada, focusing predominately on solar and geothermal.
The agenda focused on presentations. First Solar discussed its utility scale projects in Nevada. There was also an update of the Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Program.
The Committee discussed the potential of converting existing mines into clean energy resources. Presenters from the Division of Minerals, Commission on Mineral Resources and the Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno confirmed conversion of mine sites to renewable energy sources is possible, however, each site has to be evaluated individually.
Information on Nevada’s geological survey and available technology was presented. Only about six percent of Nevada has been surveyed to determine areas with the greatest potential for developing energy and lithium. Surveys are planned that will increase that number to 20-25 percent.
Albermarle and Lithium Nevada provided status reports on operations in Nevada. Albermarle’s Silver Peak is the only operating lithium mine in Nevada, and Lithium Nevada is in the permitting process for Thacker Pass, the largest known lithium deposit in the U.S.
Other presentations to the committee included battery energy storage, Clean Cars Nevada Initiative, Nevada’s gas tax, highway funds, and Regional Transportation Commissions.
The Legislative Commission met on August 26 to review administrative regulations submitted pursuant to NRS 233B.067. The Commission passed the regulations submitted for review from the State Board of Health, the Board of Applied Behavior Analysis, and the State Environmental Commission, among others. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the two special sessions, deadlines for completing work of interim and statutory committees, as well their BDRs have been extended to September 30.
Staffing needs for the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session were discussed. Plans are in place for different scenarios including notably, the continuation of the “online only” special session structure – which was generally conducted late at night and did not feature robust public participation.
Sunset Subcommittee of the Legislative Commission
The Sunset Subcommittee met on August 31 to receive updates and determine if 15 boards or commissions should be continued, terminated or combined with another entity. There was extensive discussion related to health practitioners working in Nevada under the Governor’s emergency directive as it relates to patient safety. Another topic of concern is the length of time it is taking for death certificates to be signed by doctors.
By James Wadhams for Las Vegas Business Press
At special legislative sessions, by their nature, it seems as if there’s always something wrong, something going sideways. The 32nd Special Session of the Nevada Legislature conducted recently addressed significant policy issues that could not wait until the regularly scheduled legislative session.
This special session was special indeed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the legislative building in Carson City was completely sealed off from the public. The only people allowed inside of the building were the legislators themselves, some of their staff and then a half dozen to a dozen people credentialed as media.
The biggest deal during this session, at least for our overall business community, was a bill that dealt with a combination of hospitality workers’ safety and standards for lawsuits against businesses in the coronavirus environment. One of the main concerns of many businesses was their contention that if they play by the rules, maintaining enhanced standards of cleanliness and hygiene, then they should not be subject to a lawsuit by someone who alleges they have caught the coronavirus. Business owners wanted some certainty that if the business was following all of the COVID-19 safety protocols, then it should not have to worry about being sued.
The bill was passed, and although it doesn’t stop the lawsuit per se, it does state the standard to prevent a successful lawsuit is substantial compliance with controlling standards. To be successful, a lawsuit must allege and prove that the business committed gross negligence. So, while businesses still can be sued, the bill does provide a little more protection for those businesses that are trying to do the right thing.
The difficulty for any business, but particularly a small business, is that if a lawsuit is filed, it has to hire or have its insurance company hire a lawyer. Lawyers can then file a Motion to Dismiss and begin to defend the lawsuit.
There are not a lot of sales occurring in many businesses right now. Many business owners are just trying to get some employees back to work. So, the Legislature decided that it was an important element to offer this additional layer of protection.
Normally, even in a special session where the issues are limited, there are hundreds of people a day in the legislative building. In this case during the pandemic, there were typically less than 200 in the building. At the conclusion of the hearing on bills, telephone testimony was available.
As we got later into the session, the opportunities to speak came in the evenings and sometimes late at night. You had to be in a queue holding your place in line, and then any testimony was limited to two minutes. Historically, the primary proponents and opponents were allowed from 30 minutes to an hour to provide direct testimony on the bill.
It was challenging for the public to get input. And, although there was a lot of comment, there was not nearly as much as we see in a normal session. I don’t just mean a regular special session, but one that did not have all the restrictions of COVID-19. I think that was hard on everybody. I think the public only saw glimpses of what was going on, and that was largely through the media. Those of us, like myself, who represented interests did not have the opportunity to communicate routinely with legislators. Communication with legislators was limited to using cellphones and texting.
This was very unusual. In a normal session, there is the opportunity to exchange ideas just walking down the hallway between hearings. This time, however, the legislators were essentially placed in isolation. The other phenomenon was that anywhere from six to 12, maybe 15, legislators actually exercised the option to call in and participate by a video conference or telephone. It made it a very unusual process.
I represent several sectors in the business community that were involved in this special session. This bill relating to liability was especially important, particularly to small business, but to large business as well.
Other legislation passed during this special session included safe and expanded opportunities for Nevadans to make their voice heard in November’s election, more flexibility to connect Nevadans to unemployment benefits, criminal and social justice policy reform and interventions to implement alternative resolution measures for rental evictions.
I have been working with legislative issues in the Nevada Legislature going back to the 1970s when I was working with the state agency. I’ve worked over the decades with hundreds of legislators on dozens of issues. It’s a complex process, and it changes every session because every Legislature is different.
One of the major challenges is that we are less than 170 days from our next regular session. So, the conclusion of this special session really just represents a preview for the next regular session, and it’s going to be a challenge.
Nevada is heavily impacted by the coronavirus and the economic consequences of the shutdown, especially in our primary industry, tourism. But all of the business community has suffered substantially. The challenges of dealing with the impact of the shutdown on jobs and the employers that create those jobs will be enormous particularly as government at the state and local level look to make up for the lost revenue. Striking the right balance will be critical for the future of Nevada.