Nevada Newsmakers

News - April 18, 2023 - by Ray Hagar

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State Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, said she was "appalled" at the expulsion of two black lawmakers in Tennessee recently, in response to their gun violence protest on the floor of that state's House of Representatives, saying on Nevada Newsmakers the move smacks of racism.

"Oh, boy. You know, my first thought actually was? Well, jeez, Tennessee, your racism is showing a little bit. You might want to cover that up," she told host Sam Shad in an interview late last week.

Three state representatives faced expulsion following their roles in a protest calling for gun control after a shooting at a Christian school in Nashville. That tragedy saw six people killed, including three children.

Only the two black lawmakers, Reps. Justin Jones and Justine Pearson, were expelled. The third protesting lawmaker, Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, escaped expulsion when the super-majority vote needed to oust her fell one vote short.

After the vote, Rep. Johnson suggested the color of her skin was the reason she was not expelled.

"I was appalled at the idea that they would even try to expel three of their members for exercising their free speech at the state legislature," Harris said. "That in itself is beyond the pale. When I learned that they then showed themselves up by only expelling the two African-American members of the three, my jaw almost hit the floor.

"I mean, I did not think it could get any worse," Harris said. "And somehow the Tennessee House GOP found a way.

"It's shameful," Harris continued. "We all have to call it what it is. There's just no other explanation for what we saw."

However, at the height of the national controversy over the expulsions, both of the black lawmakers' local governments voted to send them back to the Legislature.

"I am not from Tennessee," Harris said. "I do know some folks there, but I sure do hope that no matter who you are, you're pretty darn angry about what happened."

More than 160 mass shootings have taken place in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence archive, a non-profit research database. It defines "mass shooting" as an incident where at least four people are killed.

Harris pushed back when Shad asked if the expulsion of the two lawmakers, coupled with other political issues, is pushing people away from the nation's traditional two-party political system.

You can't "two sides" this issue, she said in response.

"I don't think there's one Democratic-branded state legislature that has expelled Republican members for protesting in front of the state legislature," Harris said. "There is, in my mind, a very clear difference between how Republicans are running their state houses and how Democrats are running theirs, whether that be on policy lines or just general discourse and civility.

"And I know people are tired of politics, and I get why. But I don't know if we can 'two sides' this issue. And I would encourage folks to really take a look at what type of government and leadership they're looking for, not just for tax policy."

Homeless Bill of Rights

Harris also defended her "Homeless Bill of Rights" proposal that does not propose any new laws but ensures the homeless people would have:
* The right to be free from intimidation,
* The right to use and move freely on public sidewalks, government buildings and public parks,
* The right to get equal treatment from state and local governments,
* The right to have access to emergency medical services,
* The right to register to vote and cast a ballot; and,
* The right to have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their personal property and to be free from discrimination by employers because they don’t have a fixed home address.

She pushed back on the idea -- expressed by state Sen. Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, that the bill doesn't do anything.

"If that was the case, we wouldn't have seen opposition from some folks who were a little bit nervous about the language in the bill that's going to require them to treat homeless persons just like everyone else," Harris said.

"If that was the status quo, I don't think we would have seen some of the law enforcement community, some of the municipalities getting nervous about the idea that they can't share confidential personal information (of the homeless), just like they can't show confidential or personal information of someone who was housed," Harris continued.

"They wouldn't be so nervous about making sure that folks can't be discriminated against by the state," she said. "Something tells me that they're a little bit nervous about some of the language in that bill, that it might change some of the behavior that they're currently engaging in."

Nevada should adopt a a "zero homeless policy," Harris said, adding homelessness is a difficult problem for cities across the nation and has yet to be solved.

"Those are some of the the hardest problems for us to solve as a society -- the ones where there are a myriad of social factors that we have to attempt to address," she said. "I've heard that there are good models across the country, but I don't think we've solved this problem quite yet.

"I would like to see the state of Nevada put together a 'zero homelessness policy' and put some dollars behind that," she continued. "We need some intent. We need a plan and we need to put the fuel behind it."

When presented with the notion that some homeless people may want to continue their current lifestyle, Harris replied:

"One, I think that is a very small portion of the homeless population. They exist, but that is that is not a majority of the people who don't have shelter," she said.

"Two, this is America. And it should not be illegal to live your life the way you want to live it," she said. "Frankly, the conservative in me says if you want to be homeless, and if you are not committing any crimes, that is your right."

Cannabis legislation

Harris also promoted SB277, her bill that is designed to modernize Nevada cannabis laws. The two key -- and controversial -- aspects of the bill would eliminate the rule barring ex-felons from receiving (cannabis business) agent cards and increasing the possession limit to 2.5 ounces and eight grams of concentrate.

"We need to lower barriers to entry wherever we can," Harris said about ending the rule that bars ex-felons from the business. "That's good occupational licensing reform."

During a hearing on the bill before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, Harris said: “We want to make sure there are low barriers to entry and all people have an opportunity to participate in what is now a legal market.”

Raising the possession and sale limit to 2.5 ounces of flower and 8 grams of concentrate would put Nevada in line with possession limits of nearby states and could help cannabis tax revenue, given it has fallen in 2022 for the first time in Nevada’s legal cannabis history, according to the Cannabis Chamber, a group that promotes the state's legal cannabis industry.

Nevada now limits individual sales to one ounce of flower and 3.5 grams of concentrate.

"(We want to) accommodate the way people may want to purchase their cannabis without the government assuming you're a criminal," Harris said.

The bill would also help dry up illegal cannabis sales, which continue to thrive because of the high cost of legal cannabis due to the onerous taxes placed on it in both the wholesale and retail markets.

"I think that we have to lower the costs so that it's competitive," Harris said. "I also think that we need to do things like just upping the possession limit so that we can really bring this into the mainstream. If we continue to treat marijuana like an illicit drug, the illicit market will continue to thrive."

National Popular Vote concept

Harris also expressed her support for the National Popular Vote concept that would do away with the Electoral College and base the winner of national elections on the overall vote totals for each candidate.

Opponents say that it would hurt Nevada by eliminating its status as a key swing state in presidential elections and end the need for presidential candidates to campaign here, just to earn its six votes in the Electoral College.

Two of the winners in the last six presidential elections, under the current Electoral College system, have not won the national popular vote. Those were Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000.

However, Presidents Benjamin Harrison (1888), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) and John Quincy Adams (1824) were also elected without winning the popular vote.

"The idea behind the national popular vote is that we have to shed this idea that states are the ones voting," she said.

"No matter where you are in this country, you would have an equal vote for the president," Harris continued. "We're in 2023 now. I've lived in California. I've lived in D.C., but born and raised here in Nevada. Why would my vote count differently depending on what state I'm in? This is about giving the power back down to the people."

She does not think smaller Western states like Nevada, Utah and Wyoming would lose their significance in the National Popular Vote model. Currently, campaigning in Nevada has become necessary for any serious presidential candidate because of the Electoral College system and Nevada's status as a swing state.

"I just don't think that would be the case," she said about a potential loss of significance for Nevada. "I think change is scary and we're not sure what presidential politics might look like.

"If you had to cater to each individual, it would not be about getting Nevada's vote," Harris said. "It would be about getting the vote of people who live in urban areas all across the country, getting the vote of people who live in rural areas all across the country, getting the vote of (retirees) all across the country, Our candidates would actually have to be more nimble about how they target the groups that they'd like to build a coalition around to get them to win."

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