2:45 p.m. update:
Top administrators expect to cut $233 million from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ budget, including some $140 million saved largely by delaying and reducing Medicaid reimbursements for health care providers.
Director Richard Whitley told state lawmakers his agency did not plan to lay off any workers, but would look to sweep nearly $17 million from the state’s tobacco settlement fund and preserve another $28 million by eliminating state-subsidized dental services for women and children.
The agency is also poised to freeze hiring for more than 138 vacant positions, cancel planned training sessions and reduce Medicaid spending on a dozen “optional” health services ranging from podiatry to optometry.
Federal approval for those changes is expected to arrive sometime within the next three months.
State Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, worried that cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates could prompt doctors to stop taking low-income patients eligible for the federally funded health care program.
Agency officials said they were confident the state would still have a enough providers to handle its roughly 75,000 Medicaid patients.
Steep cuts meant to stem Nevada’s $1.2 billion state budget shortfall will not adversely affect K-12 teachers’ salary and benefits, according to the Governor’s Finance Office.
Susan Brown, the office’s director, on Wednesday told state senators that a projected $172 million gap in the state’s main school spending account can be bridged without eliminating special student programs and reversing long-promised teacher pay raises.
Instead, Brown’s office has proposed more than $576 million in transfers from reserve funds and reimbursements from congressional COVID stimulus funds.
Gov. Steve Sisolak is also seeking $175 million in changes to previously OK’d construction projects
Sisolak on Monday released a 40-page blueprint for patching budget holes with “deep cuts in services and proposals.” The plan leaves it up to the Legislature to decide whether to pursue “augmentation of existing revenue sources” via tax increases.
11 a.m. update
It only took a few minutes for the partisan fireworks to start at Nevada’s latest special legislative session.
Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, on Wednesday objected to a Democrat-sponsored motion that will allow lawmakers to vote remotely on measures meant to fix Nevada’s COVID-clobbered budget.
They said the rule change, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, runs afoul of a state constitutional requirement mandating that members meet in person and in Carson City.
“I seriously object to this concept,” Settelmeyer told his colleagues. “This motion would allow people to vote not even in Carson City and not even in Nevada.”
Longtime state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, also objected to the rule change allowing proxy votes, one that he said would create a “potentially mischievous situation” where senators would not feel the need to join their counterparts in the state capital.
Cannizzaro said members would only be allowed to remotely cast a vote with her approval or the approval of a standing committee chair.
The measure passed on a strict party-line vote, with all eight Senate Republicans opposed.
Nevada’s 31st special legislative session is now underway.
State senators opened proceedings shortly after 10 a.m. You can watch a live stream of their deliberations below or on the state Legislature’s website.
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday issued a formal proclamation setting the policy parameters for the long-awaited emergency lawmaking session, which is meant to mop up ongoing economic damage from the coronavirus.
It goes on allow the Legislature to consider a proposal that would let the Clark County School District donate unspent school funds toward the state’s budget-patching effort.
Lawmakers will also weigh a measure that would permit the Nevada Board of Regents to waive Millennium Scholarship requirements for students “negatively impacted during the pandemic.”
Sisolak’s office said that once the budget shortfall is addressed and the special session is concluded, the governor plans to “issue a subsequent proclamation for the legislature to consider policy items that rise to the extraordinary occasion of a special session.”
The first-term Democrat on Monday released a 40-page blueprint for stemming the state’s projected $1.2 billion budget shortfall with “deep cuts in services and proposals.” The plan leaves it up to the Legislature to decide whether to pursue “augmentation of existing revenue sources” via tax increases.
Nevada law says legislators must conclude the special session within 20 days.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.