Planned special session pushed to July as staff scramble to COVID-proof Nevada Legislature

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A crowd of up to 200 people gather on April 18 to protest Gov. Steve Sisolak’s stay-at-home order. Drivers honk in support of reopening businesses. Reno Gazette Journal

Staffers say they need more time to implement virus protection measures in Carson City

Nevada Democrats are eyeing an early July start date for an upcoming special legislative session meant to clean up the state budget mess caused by the coronavirus. 

Leaders of the Democrat-dominated statehouse asked Gov. Steve Sisolak to delay the planned late-June session after consulting with the Legislature’s in-house legal team, who requested more time to “prepare the building with sufficient physical safety measures.” 

“Public safety during the crisis remains the top priority for the governor and legislators, and the delay will allow (Legislative Counsel Bureau) staff additional time to develop proper safety protocols,” Democratic caucus leaders wrote in a joint Monday statement. “The governor accepted the request for an extension from legislative leaders. 

“Both Majority Leader Cannizzaro and Speaker Frierson appreciate that the governor remains flexible during this unprecedented crisis and (committed) to continued coordination on the fiscal year 2021 budget plan and any other items that might be discussed during the upcoming special session.”

More: Nevada lawmakers approve $116 million in budget cuts, with a few choice words for Sisolak

Related: Sisolak debuts plan to plug $812 million coronavirus-caused hole in Nevada’s budget

Sisolak — who had hoped to bring lawmakers back to Carson City before the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30 — confirmed the delay in a Monday statement.

“While the governor expressed concern over moving the date into the next fiscal year, he understands the important need of ensuring the safety of members and staff during a special session in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to ensuring the public has a safe way to participate in the process,” Sisolak’s office said in a statement. “He plans on using this additional time to evaluate the most up-to-date revenue forecasts with the hope of mitigating the most severe reductions in the FY21 budget proposal, which was sent to LCB earlier this month.”

The governor’s office did not provide specifics on exactly when the session might start.

Nevada lawmakers have spent the past several weeks scrambling to patch several COVID-caused holes in the state’s $4.4 billion annual spending plan. 

A deeply divided panel of legislators earlier this month approved $116 million in new spending cuts meant to help fill the estimated $812 million budget shortfall.

More: Nevada lawmakers approve $116 million in budget cuts, with a few choice words for Sisolak

The move slashed a combined $67 million from spending on higher education, health services and public safety. It also canceled $49 million in expected tech upgrades, vehicle purchases and other one-shot expenditures first OK’d by lawmakers in 2019. 

Those cutbacks, coupled with a $401 million withdrawal from Nevada’s rainy-day fund, shore up nearly two-thirds of the state’s projected budget gap. Officials will look to make up the remaining balance mostly via federal coronavirus stimulus payments and transfers from other reserve funds, such as the state’s Disaster Relief Account. 

The budget maneuvering comes after virus-related travel and social distancing restrictions decimated the Silver State’s tourism-driven economy, sending unemployment soaring to a nation-topping 30.1 percent in April.

Officials anticipate ending the fiscal year with 14 percent less sales tax revenue and a 20 percent decline in crucial gaming tax income. 

Sisolak has responded to the budget crunch with furloughs and a statewide salary freeze. In a letter to state employees, he said those efforts would help limit the number of state worker layoffs to less than 50. He has not proposed changes to employee health insurance or retirement benefits.

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

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