8 bills to watch in Carson City
Legislation could change the way we do business
VEGAS INC file
As the 2013 Legislature readies to convene, most observers have focused their attention on taxes.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has promised to veto any tax increase, while Democratic leaders have vowed to launch an extensive review of the existing tax structure, which has the potential to change the way businesses pay license fees, the live entertainment tax and other levies.
But the tax debate isn’t the only discussion that stands to change the way Nevada companies do business.
From restrictions on how pharmacies sell cold medicine to a measure that would block employers’ access to job applicants’ social networking passwords, there are a bevy of bills expected to move through the Legislature this session that sit on the outskirts of the major debates but are nevertheless important.
Some of the measures already have been written. Others remain in draft form. Still more are in the conception stage, having yet to make it into writing.
The legislative session begins Feb. 4.
Here is a look at some of the smaller measures — those unlikely to carry front-page headlines — that could have a large impact on business and are worth keeping an eye on:
It’s pretty easy to walk into a fast food joint and not think twice about downing a burger, fries and shake. But what if the foods’ fat, calorie and sodium counts were staring you in the face?
Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, argues that if more nutritional information were available, consumers might make wiser choices when ordering from chain restaurants’ menus. So she has introduced legislation that would require restaurants with 10 or more locations to post nutritional information.
The federal Affordable Care Act imposes a similar requirement, a fact Flores said she was unaware of when she introduced her bill, which still is in draft form. BDR 81 would mirror the federal legislation, she said.
“Obesity is at epidemic levels, and the fiscal and social impacts are enormous,” Flores said. “Also, in my own experience, I found that you could better manage your food choices when you had nutritional information available.”
Flores isn’t the only lawmaker trying to craft public policy aimed at swaying people’s food choices.
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, is reviving failed legislation from last session that would impose a tax on junk food bought at fast food restaurants or convenience stores.
BDR 57 still is in draft form, so details weren’t available. But last session, Munford sought as much as a 5 percent sales tax on junk food.
The 2011 bill never received so much as a committee hearing.
As methamphetamine addiction continues to grip Nevada, policymakers have looked for ways to restrict sales of the drug’s easily obtained precursor ingredients, most notably pseudoephedrine, the main chemical in many over-the-counter cold medicines.
Last session, an effort to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine-containing medicines failed.
The push to refine restrictions will continue this session.
Assembly Bill 39 would allow for a same-day customer verification system that would enable pharmacists to check whether a customer had purchased pseudoephedrine products that day. The real-time system would replace the log book that pharmacists now are required to maintain.
The bill also would set limits for how much pseudoephedrine-containing medicine a customer could purchase within 30 days.
Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, adopted one of his most recent legislative initiatives after reading a news article on Facebook.
Apparently, some employers aren’t content simply to browse prospective employees’ public social media profiles. Instead, they want applicants’ user names and passwords, as well.
Bobzien takes exception to that, particularly given that many social media sites, including Facebook, prohibit users from sharing their passwords.
“Applicants shouldn’t be required to violate the terms of service for these sites,” he said.
Bobzien noted that he hasn’t received any complaints about the practice from constituents in Nevada. But he felt it was important to “stay ahead of the curve” on technology legislation.
Rather than impose blanket restrictions on employers who request password information, BDR 48 would prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to violate social networking sites’ terms of service. The bill still is in draft form.
Bobzien said he modeled the legislation after proposed laws in other states, including Maryland and Illinois.
Construction defect legislation
Session after session, Republicans have worked either to repeal or significantly curtail state law that governs how homeowners can sue builders for construction defects.
The bills haven’t gone anywhere. Construction defect legislation often is one of the bargaining chips Republicans use to trade away votes in favor of tax reform.
That could change this session.
During past sessions, one significant roadblock – Democratic Assembly Speaker John Oceguera – stood in the way of Republican efforts to chip away at Chapter 40, the state’s construction defect law. But thanks to term limits, Oceguera no longer is in the Legislature, and Republicans see this session as an opportunity to revive the legislation, which passed the state Senate nearly unanimously in 2009.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, has proposed BDR 480, which he said would mirror the legislation sponsored in 2009 by conservative Democrat Terry Care.
“This does not repeal Chapter 40,” Roberson said. “This addresses problems of guaranteed legal fees for construction defect attorneys, and it will redefine what a defect is.”
The legislation also would require homeowners to file lawsuits within three years of a defect instead of the current 10 years.
Critics say Care’s bill came close to repealing Chapter 40. But it received bipartisan support in 2009.
Oceguera, who controlled much of the process, stood in the way of a compromise in 2011.
Roberson hopes 2013 will be the year the issue is addressed, even though Sandoval hasn’t seemed interested in taking it up.
“This is a very important piece of legislation to me,” Roberson said.
Even with Nevada’s own U.S. Sen. Harry Reid at the helm, the state’s gaming lobby failed to persuade Congress to take up legislation legalizing online poker.
Enter the Nevada Legislature.
In a somewhat unusual move for a regulatory agency, the Gaming Control Board has requested state legislation that would allow Nevada to enter into interstate compacts for online gaming. Essentially, the compacts would allow Nevada-based gaming companies to build a customer base for their online products in other states.
Assembly Bill 5 is one of the most important pieces of gaming legislation up for consideration this session.
Last year, the Southern Nevada Water Authority embarked on a mission to find a revenue stream to replace the one it lost when the economic collapse caused a near end to new water hookups and the fees that accompany them.
The authority needed the money to pay down $3.3 billion in infrastructure bonds.
Rather than saddle residential customers or big casinos with a rate increase, water regulators passed the burden onto the business community. Most local companies were hit with a rate hike. Some saw their water bills triple.
Roberson, responding to concerns from business owners, began looking for a way to hold the SNWA board more accountable. He thinks he found it.
His solution: Give the Nevada Public Utilities Commission oversight of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“Water rates were hiked on businesses in Southern Nevada, and many in the business community felt there was not an adequate opportunity for input by the business community,” Roberson said. “It’s a small group of people who make this decision.”
BDR 481 would give the utilities commission oversight power. It will be a bill to watch and one that may cause fireworks.
It’s unlikely the water authority and its outspoken Director Pat Mulroy will let the draft legislation pass without a fight.
Home-based business license fee
After a yearlong quest to close what he called a loophole in Nevada’s business license regulations, Secretary of State Ross Miller last year persuaded a legislative panel to end an exemption he said was being misused.
The panel decided that small home-based businesses registered as limited liability companies no longer would qualify for exemption from the state’s $200 business license fee.
Miller’s office had found more than 100,000 businesses that claimed the exemption meant for mom-and-pop operations that earn less than $27,000 a year. Miller said many of them – including a bowling alley and nail salon – did so fraudulently.
While Miller failed to persuade the Legislature to close the loophole in 2011, he succeeded a year later with the legislative panel.
Roberson now wants to reverse the regulatory change – and expand the exemptions. BDR 479 would free any home-based business that makes less than $27,000 a year, whether it is registered as an LLC or not, from paying the business license fee.
“These are small mom-and-pop businesses, and now they are being hit with additional fees from the secretary of state,” Roberson said. “My legislation would propose to reverse that.”
In 2000, Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment that allows residents to legally possess medical marijuana.
But since then, Nevada lawmakers have failed to come up with a way for patients to legally obtain the drug.
Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, wants to change that.
BDR 89, which still is in draft form, would create a dispensary network that would be licensed and taxed by the state.
Segerblom has yet to flesh out the details of how the state would set the system up, but he has named it as one of his top priorities this session.