By SAM METZ AP/Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Republicans, relegated to the minority in both the state Senate and Assembly, hope that economic anxiety and coronavirus restrictions will broaden the resonance of their small government, anti-tax message.
They have railed against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s use of executive power throughout the pandemic and against the Legislature’s Democratic majority for making policy changes without any across-the-aisle support. But with the Democrats in control of the state Senate, the state Assembly and the governor’s mansion, they have had little recourse to push back.
On Thursday, they were once again left in the cold.
Assembly Republicans, a 16-member minority in the 42-member chamber, gathered outside the legislative building in the frigid weather Thursday afternoon to detail their agenda for the 2021 legislative session. They described plans to reopen more businesses and classrooms, roll back election reforms and redistribute emergency powers away from the executive branch and Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Flanked by lawmakers, Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington, thanked attendees for braving the freezing temperatures and said that she had been denied a request to convene a news conference inside the legislative building, even though both lawmakers and members of the press are permitted inside.
“We all know that losing livelihoods can be just as damaging as a virus itself. And the same goes for schoolchildren: they need to get back into school. Life cannot be lived in a perpetual idleness and isolation. I am truly encouraged by the governor’s loosening restrictions, but much more needs to be done,” Titus said as winds whirred and snowflakes drizzled onto the top of her head.
Titus’ emphasis on unemployment, economic recovery and education shared much in common with the remarks Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, gave on the first day of the legislative session. But they also set the stage for ideological disputes — about taxes, the role of government and election law — that have animated previous legislative sessions.
When Frierson outlined his priorities, he called for “a state government whose budget leaves no one behind” and “closing corporate tax loopholes so that we are securing an economic future for Nevada families that not only gets them through today but for the decades ahead of them.”
Like in other states with Democratic governors, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky, Nevada Republicans want to restrict the governor’s authority to issue emergency orders, including businesses restrictions and mask mandates, eleven months into the pandemic. They are pushing a bill that, if passed would require the governor to seek approval from the Legislature to extend a state of emergency beyond 15 days.
“Draconian restrictions and unilaterally enacted executive directives that entirely bypass legislative bodies create an environment that not only infringes on basic freedoms, but does serious damage to our struggling economy and erodes the system of checks and balances,” said Assemblyman Andy Matthews, who flipped a Las Vegas area seat in November.
The bill faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Legislature and would need to be signed by Sisolak himself before becoming law.
Republicans say their longstanding commitment to limiting governmental power and creating a business-friendly economy have only become more urgent amid a pandemic that has wreaked havoc what was once among the fastest-growing state economies in the U.S., exacting a particularly harmful toll on the tourism industry.
Like in the past, Titus said Republicans’ focus regarding the state budget would be looking for surplus funds within individual agency budgets and making government more efficient. The caucus has yet to present an alternative to Sisolak’s baseline budget outlining specific cuts.
“Many of you have heard me speak before and I traditionally say, ‘We don’t have a money problem, we have a spending problem.’ I’m gonna leave you with this: Now, I firmly believe we do not have a budget problem, we have a government problem,” Titus said.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.