By Megan Messerly
The Nevada Independent
With the new year comes, yet again, another new set of laws on the books.
More than 55 bills enacted by the Legislature in 2021 take effect either in whole or in part today. They include several health care-related laws — making changes to Medicaid services, establishing a pathway for people to obtain birth control without a doctor’s office visit and creating a process to open up additional treatment opportunities for certain cancer patients — as well as a slew of voting bills that codify changes made for the 2020 election and transition Nevada from a caucus to a primary state for its presidential nominating contests.
The state’s “ghost gun ban” — which prohibits a person from possessing, purchasing, transporting or receiving any unfinished frame or receiver of a firearm — also kicks in today, though a December court order means the purchase or possession of unfinished guns and accessories won’t be criminalized as intended.
Other new laws bar property insurers from discriminating by dog breed when issuing policies, establish a saving account program for low-income Nevadans and put in place new car seat requirements for kids under the age of 6.
Here’s a rundown of some of the state’s new laws.
AB121: Voting changes for people with disabilities
This new law, which takes effect today, allows people with disabilities to both register to vote and cast ballots using an electronic system created for uniformed military members and other voters living overseas.
AB321: Permanent mail voting
This new law, which was opposed by Republicans and passed the Legislature on party lines, permanently codifies certain pandemic-related election changes that were put in place for the 2020 election. Most notably, it requires all county and city clerks to send every active registered voter a mail ballot before each primary or general election. Inactive voters — those voters who are legally registered to vote but don’t have a current address on file — won’t be sent ballots.
Unlike in 2020, mail ballots will be required to be received four days — instead of seven — after an election, though they will still be required to be postmarked by Election Day. Additionally, voters will only have six days, instead of seven, to fix issues with their ballots — a process known as signature curing.
Election officials will have seven days, instead of nine, to finish counting ballots after Election Day, and the secretary of state’s office is now required to cross check the list of registered voters in the state with a list of deceased individuals.
The new law allows voters to opt out of being mailed a ballot by providing written notice to their local election clerk. It also maintains certain minimum requirements for in-person polling places.
It also explicitly authorizes election clerks to use electronic devices to verify the authenticity of signatures on ballots, while requiring more training on signature verification and putting in place other provisions aimed at boosting election security, including daily audits on any electronic checking of signatures.
While these provisions won’t technically take effect until the next election, the new law officially kicks in today.
AB126: An end to the presidential caucus
Nevada’s presidential caucuses are officially no more. A new law that kicks in today replaces the state’s caucus system with a primary election. It also aims to make the state the first in the presidential primary calendar, moving it ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire.
A poll this summer of registered Nevada voters found that a majority were in favor of switching from a caucus to a primary system. It’s not yet clear, however, whether Nevada will notch the firstin-the-nation spot, as Iowa and New Hampshire will likely jockey to retain their positions in the presidential nominating calendar.
SB292: More election changes
This new law makes changes to the appointment process for certain vacant seats. For instance, any vacant U.S. Senate seats must be filled by a member of the same political party as their predecessor. Legislative seats will now be filled by appointments from individual caucus leaders, not county commissions. The new law also repeals existing sections of state law governing political party organization and raises the requirements for minor political parties to make it onto the ballot.
SB190: Doctor’s visits no longer required to receive certain kinds of birth control
This new law will allow women to receive self-administered hormonal contraceptives without a visit to the doctor’s office. Instead, pharmacists will now be allowed to dispense such medications to patients after administering a risk questionnaire.
The new law also requires the Board of Pharmacy to maintain an online list of pharmacies that dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives.
SB290: Exemption from step therapy for cancer
This new law will make it easier for certain stage 3 and 4 cancer patients to receive certain treatments by allowing them to apply for an exemption from step therapy — a process where patients are required to try and prove that certain drugs are ineffective before insurance companies will cover a higher-cost drug. As of today, all health insurers, including public and private sector employers and Medicaid, are required to grant the step therapy exemption requests.
AB358: More seamless transition to Medicaid for incarcerated people
This new law requires a person’s Medicaid eligibility to only be suspended — rather than terminated — when they are incarcerated and specifies that individuals who were not previously on Medicaid should be allowed to apply for enrollment in the program up to six months before their scheduled release date. The new law also requires eligibility for and coverage under Medicaid to be reinstated as soon as possible upon an individual’s release.
SB420 + AB256: Changes to Medicaid services
Nevada’s public health insurance option won’t be available until 2026, but several other provisions of the legislation establishing the public option, SB420, kick in today. Those provisions make several changes to the state’s Medicaid program, including coverage of doula services, coverage of community health workers and presumptive eligibility for pregnant women. AB256 also makes changes to Medicaid coverage of doula services and takes effect today.
AB286: Ghost gun ban
A new law aimed at blocking the sale and production of unregistered “ghost guns” kicks in today, though key portions of the law were temporarily suspended by a Lyon County judge in December. The law generally prohibits a person from possessing, purchasing, transporting or receiving any unfinished frame or receiver of a firearm, or assembling any firearm not imprinted with a serial number. Initial violations carry a criminal misdemeanor penalty, while repeat violations can be punished by a felony charge.
The December order, however, means that purchases or possession of unfinished guns and accessories won’t be criminalized as intended.
AB42: Jury trials for domestic violence cases
This new law implements a state Supreme Court order establishing a statutory right to a jury trial for a person charged with misdemeanor domestic violence that would lead to the accused losing firearm ownership rights — the result of a 2015 change to state law prohibiting firearm ownership for such individuals. After that law was enacted, municipal courts throughout the state, which typically handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases, scrambled to figure out ways to hold jury trials in courts and courtrooms not really set up for them.
In response to that problem, this new law creates a framework to hold jury trials in municipal court.
CULTURAL COMPETENCY + MENTAL HEALTH
AB327 + SB108: Cultural competency training for mental health professionals, people who work with kids in juvenile justice system
Two cultural competency bills take effect today. One of them, AB327, requires psychiatrists, therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals to complete a certain number of hours of training on cultural competency and diversity, equity and inclusion. The other, SB108, requires that people who, during the scope of their employment, have regular and routine contact with youth involved in the juvenile justice system complete periodic training on implicit bias and cultural competency.
AB304: Peace officer continuing education to address crisis intervention
All peace officers are required to complete no less than 12 hours of continuing education courses annually that address racial profiling, mental health, officer well-being, implicit bias recognition, de-escalation, human trafficking and firearms. This new law requires that crisis intervention be addressed as part of the continuing education coursework on mental health.
AB118: New car seat requirements for younger kids
New car seat requirements take effect today. Previously, children under the age of 6 and weighing 60 pounds or less were required to be secured in car seats. That rule has now changed to apply to children under the age of 6 who are less than 57 inches tall — regardless of their weight. Additionally, the new law requires children under 2 to be secured in a rear-facing child restraint system in the back of a car.
SB103: No discrimination based on dog breed by property insurers
This new law bars insurance companies from refusing to issue or renew, canceling or increasing premiums or rates for insurance policies based solely on the breed of a dog housed on a property. However, insurance companies may still refuse to issue or renew, cancel or increase premiums or rates if a specific dog is known to be dangerous or vicious.
SB114: Hemp and CBD-infused food products
This new law allows certain food establishments to sell hemp or CBD-infused food products. It also requires the state to adopt regulations to identify possible contaminants within such foods and prohibits food from being deemed “adulterated” — meaning it fails to meet the legal standards — solely because the food contains an approved hemp component.
AB266: Teacher evaluations
Starting today, this new law requires that certain teachers responsible for a class that exceeds the recommended student to teacher ratio be awarded an additional weight on their teacher evaluations for certain criteria — including the manner in which the teacher structures the classroom environment, employs the cognitive abilities and skills of all students and engages with students’ families.
SB188: Savings accounts for low-income
Nevadans This new law kicking in today will allow some low-income people to create a savings account and receive matching funds from a bank to multiply their deposits up to five fold. The new program, called the “Individual Development Account Program,” will be available to people living in low-income housing projects, who have enrolled in Medicaid or who are in the foster care system.
The law calls for the state treasurer to accept grants and donations and use them to match funds deposited by account holders with up to $3,000 per beneficiary per year. The state is also required to provide financial literacy training to account holders.