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Govt-and-politics
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Goicoechea, Ellison on 'State of the State'

State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said Thursday the new Nevada governor’s State of the State address on Wednesday “was a great political speech. He promised something for everyone,” but the senator had questions about how to pay for the proposals.

Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, said Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak “said no new taxes, and we will hold him to that.”

The Senate Republican Caucus issued a statement that it would support Sisolak’s position against raising taxes, stating that Senate Republicans “agree that we can increase education funding and provide greater access to health care, while keeping taxes at current levels.”

Ellison said on Thursday that he had questions about how the state could afford Sisolak’s proposals, but he said former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s ending fund balance of $425 million was $226 million over the 5 percent required “so that is something to work with.”

Ellison said he was in a meeting Thursday in Carson City going over the governor’s budget with Sandoval’s former chief of staff, Michael Willden.

Although the Legislature doesn’t go into session until Feb. 4, Goicoechea said he will start work next Tuesday in Carson City as a member of the Senate Finance Committee to “crunch some numbers.”

Sisolak released his budget Thursday calling for roughly $26 billion in spending over the next two years.

Background checks

Both Goicoechea and Ellison said they expect that Sisolak’s gun-control efforts won’t go over well in rural Nevada. Goicoechea said extensive background checks that would include individuals selling to other individuals are too much.

“My constituents won’t go for this,” he said.

Ellison said “we’re getting calls by the ton” on gun control and Second Amendment rights, and “we will fight as much as we can.”

Sisolak said in his speech he is working with the Nevada Legislature to find a way to enforce Nevada’s 2016 background-check law that Sandoval termed flawed and not possible to enforce, according to The Associated Press.

The governor also said he wants to ban bump stocks on weapons, which allow guns to fire like a fully automatic weapon. The mass shooter in Las Vegas used a bump stock.

Raising wages

Goicoechea said another concern is on a proposed change to the prevailing wage regulations that would drop the figure from $350,000 to $100,000 as the point when public construction projects must adhere to the prevailing wage for workers.

“You can barely do plans for $100,000,” he said.

Ellison said he is worried about raising minimum wages because that would especially hurt small businesses. Sisolak is his speech proposed raising the minimum wage that is now $7.25, but he didn’t say how much he wanted it to be raised.

“It’s coming, but it is a bad deal. I am talking small businesses,” Ellison said.

Voter registration

A proposal coming from Sisolak for same-day voter registration also worries Goicoechea, who quipped that without tight restrictions someone could cast a ballot six times.

Sisolak’s new budget seeks $95,000 to implement an automatic voter registration law that voters passed in November. It automatically registers eligible people to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or state ID card.

Goicoechea also said a proposal to allow collective bargaining for state employees could be costly for Nevada.

“I don’t see where the dollars will come from,” Goicoechea said.

“We’ll get through this, and we will have a budget in the end,” he said on a more optimistic note.

Ellison, who is in the Assembly Republican Caucus leadership, said he still doesn’t favor Sisolak’s proposal to “open up recreational marijuana sales even more,” although the revenues coming into the state from marijuana sales are “unbelievable.”

He said most people support medical marijuana sales, but he has concerns about recreational sales.

Sisolak said he wanted to grow and manage the marijuana industry strictly and fairly and to create a new Cannabis Compliance Board to regulate marijuana dispensaries the way the state’s Gaming Commission regulates casinos, according to The Associated Press.


Govt-and-politics
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Sisolak lays out $26B spending plan

LAS VEGAS — Gov. Steve Sisolak’s budget proposal calls for about $26 billion in spending over the next two years, including a 3-percent pay raise for state workers and K-12 teachers, more than $100 million for growing enrollment in the Medicaid health insurance program and $3 million for family planning services.

Sisolak’s budget was released Thursday after the Democrat unveiled highlights in his Wednesday night State of the State speech.

The plan does not call for cuts in any department’s spending or any new taxes or tax increases, something Republicans applauded.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature will set Nevada’s budget in its biennial session kicking off next month before sending it to Sisolak.

A look at highlights of Sisolak’s budget plan:

Education

He is proposing a 3-percent raise for all state workers, including K-12 teachers. Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said legislators will have to scrutinize the proposal because it’s going to cost $120 million a year.

“We need to look at the long-term burn, how that’s going to go,” Kieckhefer said. “But broadly, I support it. I’ve always supported teacher pay raises and pay raises for state employees. Those are people I represent.”

Sisolak also is proposing $45 million for pre-kindergarten programs, $27 million to help 2,000 additional students access career and technical education programs, and $9 million to reimburse teachers who buy classroom supplies.

He’s also requesting $36.5 million this year to cover growing enrollment in public schools and recommending that $53 million generated from the retail sales of legal marijuana over the next two years be put toward school safety.

Higher education

The budget calls for $44 million over the next two years to pay for growing student enrollment at the state’s universities and colleges. Sisolak is proposing that $477 million be spent on a new health and sciences building at the College of Southern Nevada and $62 million for a new education building at Nevada State College. He’s also proposing the state boost funding at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas medical school by $14.3 million by the end of the budget cycle.

HEALTH CARE

Nevada, one of three dozen states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, is expected to have 687,000 people on the health care program by the 2021. Sisolak is proposing to set aside more than $100 million to pay for that. Nevada and the U.S. government jointly pay for Medicaid and the state’s children’s health program. But to make up for the federal government’s decreasing share of the costs, Sisolak’s budget proposes sending an additional $132 million for those programs. Nevada is moving away from the federally run online health insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act to a state-run website. Sisolak is recommending nearly $14 million for the move over the next two years.

NEW INITIATIVES

Sisolak said he wants to make sure every person is counted in the 2020 U.S. Census. To help with that effort, he’s proposing spending $5 million on outreach and education.

He also is proposing about $95,000 to implement an automatic voter registration law that voters passed in November. The so-called “motor voter” law automatically registers eligible people to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or state ID card.

Another initiative approved by voters, the Marsy’s Law embedding crime victims’ rights in the state constitution, gets $15 million for implementation over two years. Among the law’s provisions is a push to make it easier for crime victims to be notified when a suspect in their case is released on bail. It also prioritizes victim restitution over other fines and forfeitures.

Sisolak has also proposed an Office of New Americans to help immigrants navigate government services. He’s budgeting nearly $400,000 for the office through the 2021 budget year.


Govt-and-politics
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City wants to hear from residents about OHV use on roadways

ELKO – The City of Elko wants to know what residents think about allowing Off-Highway Vehicles to drive on city streets.

In late 2018, the Elko City Council authorized City Manager Curtis Calder to set up an informal working group to evaluate the possibility of creating an Off-Highway Vehicle ordinance. Prior to consideration of such an ordinance, the working group is requesting input from Elko residents.

A presentation on the ordinance is scheduled at 6 p.m. Jan. 24, at which time the group will also accept public comments at City Hall.

Nevada law allows municipalities to designate roads for OHV travel. Elko County adopted such an ordinance in 2014, and Spring Creek lifted its ban in 2017.

“We want to be cautious in what roadways we designate and how we plan on enforcing it,” Calder said in September. Existing city ordinances prohibit OHVs within 300 feet of homes and from paved highways, with several exceptions.

It would be up to city police to enforce any regulations involving OHV speeds and helmets.

Elko County ‘s ordinance says OHVs can be operated during daylight hours at speeds up to 25 mph – reduced to 15 mph within 500 feet of a residential area. Daytime headlamps and a 6-foot flags are also required.

The city council also has heard testimony that an ordinance showing Elko to be OHV-friendly could boost tourism. Nevada’s OHV commission has been offering grants to develop trails connecting remote parts of the state.

“I think if it is done responsibly, it would be a great benefit to folks that ride OHVs and are just trying to access OHV areas,” said Calder, an avid off-road motorcycle racer.

Formal public hearings will be held prior to the adoption of an ordinance. Those unable to attend the meeting can view it at elkocity.com.


State-and-regional
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Government shutdown taking toll on wildfire preparations

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Just two months after a wildfire wiped out Paradise, California, officials are gearing up for this year’s fire season and fear the government shutdown could make it even more difficult than one of the worst in history.

The winter months are critical for wildfire managers who use the break from the flames to prepare for the next onslaught, but much of that effort has ground to a halt on U.S. land because employees are furloughed. Firefighting training courses are being canceled from Tennessee to Oregon, piles of dead trees are untended in federal forests and controlled burns to thin dry vegetation aren’t getting done.

Although the furloughs only affect federal employees, the collaborative nature of wildland firefighting means the pain of the four-week-long shutdown is having a ripple effect — from firefighters on the ground to federal contractors and top managers who control the firefighting strategy.

State and local crews who need training classes, for example, are scrambling without federal instructors. Conservation groups that work with the U.S. Forest Service to plan wildfire-prevention projects on federal lands are treading water. Annual retreats where local, state and federal firefighting agencies strategize are being called off.

The fire season starts as early as March in the southeastern United States, and by April, fires pop up in the Southwest. Last year’s most devastating fire leveled the Northern California town of Paradise just before Thanksgiving, leaving just a few months to prepare between seasons.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that while there’s not fire going on out there right now, there’s a lot of really critical work going on for the fire season — and that’s not getting done,” said Michael DeGrosky, chief of the Fire Protection Bureau for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

It’s especially important with climate change making wildfire seasons longer, deadlier and more destructive.

DeGrosky was supposed to be teaching a course this week for firefighters who want to qualify for the command staff of a fire management team. But the class was canceled without instructors from federal agencies.

Similar classes were called off in Oregon and Tennessee, and others face the same fate as the shutdown drags on. President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats are at odds over funding for a border wall.

A dozen senators from Oregon, California, New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, West Virginia and Michigan sent a letter this week to Trump warning that the shutdown would put lives at risk this coming fire season. Classes necessary for fire incident managers, smokejumpers and hotshot crews are in jeopardy in the near future, the senators said.

Smokejumpers parachute into remote forests to battle blazes not inaccessible by firefighters on the ground and hotshot crews are small groups of elite firefighters trained to battle the most ferocious flames.

The winter is also when seasonal firefighters apply for jobs, get the required drug tests and move to where they will train and work. In many cases, there’s no one to answer the phone or process the applications, and some potential recruits may decide to work elsewhere to avoid the hassle.

“Even if the shutdown ends and we start hiring people, we will have missed the cream of the crop,” DeGrosky said.

The U.S. Forest Service said in an email that the agency was committed to hiring for temporary and permanent firefighting positions and would continue critical training “to the extent feasible.”

The first session of an apprenticeship program for wildland firefighters went ahead this week, Forest Service spokeswoman Katie O’Connor said.

“The agency is assessing and prioritizing the activities we are able to maintain while in shutdown status. We are unable to speculate on specific impacts while the government shutdown is ongoing and ever-changing,” O’Connor said in a statement.

Conservationists and fire managers say there are other concerns.

Clearing and thinning projects and planned burns on federal land that could lessen fire danger by weeding out flammable debris also are largely on hold in California, Oregon and elsewhere. Private contractors say they have received letters telling them to stop the work.

There’s already a backlog of such projects in federal forests in Oregon and Northern California, said Michael Wheelock, president of Grayback, a private contractor in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Intentional fires can only be set in a narrow winter window before temperatures and humidity falls — and that is rapidly closing, Wheelock said.

“Every week that goes by, it’s going to start increasing the impact,” he said.

Joyce McLean, who lost her and her husband’s home in Paradise last November, supports Trump’s push for a border wall but worries what will happen if firefighters aren’t prepared for next time.

“I hope there are no more forest fires,” said McLean, 74. “I wouldn’t wish that on nobody.”