By: John Vellardita
Prior to the start of the session, after the November 2016 elections, Nevada Leads published a poll that found that 86% of voters wanted both parties to work together to get things done in this Session, If nothing is accomplished, there will be enough blame to go around.
From the beginning, CCEA has repeatedly made clear that “We must be vigilant to insist that we have a Legislative Session of accomplishment.”(December Op Ed in the RJ) We also said controversial issues should be taken head on and discussed for their policy merits and then let the politics decide their outcome; not the other way around. Specifically, we were speaking about the ESA and the weighted funding formula.
We are now half way through the Session and it appears there is more partisanship in this Session than in the past. The number of bills that have any bi-partisan support is down from the last Session. In the 2015 Session the party in power had to control its right wing, and bills only got passed with bi-partisan support. In this Session the party in power has to temper the so-called progressive element that appears to have a disproportionate influence over some lawmakers. As in 2015, legislation in this Session will get signed into law with bi-partisan support. But will that happen?
There could be an unlikely cure for this problem - drugs. Two issues can have a significant impact on accomplishment in this Session, but only if there is compromise and bi-partisan support. First, there is the effort to regulate the pharmaceutical industry and the fight against Big Pharma. Next there is the tax on marijuana; how much and for what.
SB 265 proposes regulations and price controls on pharmaceutical drugs. At first glance this would appear to indicate a showdown with gridlock between the proponents and Big Pharma. Some would say a real David and Goliath dynamic. But a closer view would indicate that this is one of these moments in history where Nevada could be the staging ground for legislation that passes and begins to put controls on the industry. There is potentially more upside for Democrats, Republicans, and even the Governor if something is passed; but to be clear it will not happen without compromise.
The excise tax on Marijuana will become another important focal point in this Session. It is the only significant source of new revenue being proposed. Short of what the May Economic Forum report indicates, and given the amount of legislation being proposed that has a fiscal impact, the marijuana tax will become yet another cross roads in the great divide of this session. Though ESAs have yet to find a hearing, let alone a funding source, the marijuana tax will become a magnet for a solution(s) on both sides of the aisle. The Governor, who opposed the marijuana ballot measure, has proposed a 10% excise tax. There is even talk of increasing that to a higher amount. Money buys compromises. Always has and always will.
In any event, even though this Session has seen little progress in finding bi-partisanship to get things done, drugs may be the catalyst to brokering a compromise. The odds? This is one time you can bet against the house.