Nevada Senate passes casino gun ban bill by 1 vote

CARSON CITY — Bills to further bolster mail-in voting, expand criminal penalties for individuals who bring firearms onto a gaming property, and allow resort workers who were laid-off during the pandemic to return to their jobs were passed through their chambers of origin in the Nevada Legislature on Wednesday.

Lawmakers’ schedules have become increasingly packed as the session nears its end next week, and bills that have sometimes languished in the background of committees have begun to move through the legislative process.

As an example of the sped-up timeline, Assembly Bill 321, which would make permanent many of the changes made to Nevada’s elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, was passed through the Assembly less than a day after passing through a committee.

The bill would automatically send mail ballots to every active, registered voter in the state, extending measures originally passed by the Legislature in a 2020 special session meant to allow voters to cast their ballots safely during the pandemic.

It’s been one of the most contentious measures between Democrats and Republicans this session, as Democrats argue ease of voting access is integral to elections while Republicans cite unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington, expressed those concerns in a floor statement.

“Whether there was one fraudulent ballot or thousands it does not matter,” Titus said. “The trust in the system have been seriously questioned and I am concerned that this bill just furthers that distrust of the system.”

The bill will need to be passed out of the Senate Committee on Finance before the Senate can vote on it. An unsolicited fiscal note from the secretary of state’s office, which opposes the bill on monetary grounds, estimated the measure will cost $11.3 million over future biennial.

Here’s a look at some of the other measures the Legislature moved on Wednesday.

Banning guns in casinos

Senate Bill 452, which would expand criminal provisions for bringing guns into casinos, passed through the Senate on an 11-10 vote. Sen. Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, joined all Republican senators in voting against the measure.

Under the bill, gaming properties would post signs notifying visitors that firearms — including those carried by concealed carry license holders — are illegal on the premises. Those in violation would be given in a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.

Bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, has argued the bill is designed to reduce violent crime rates on the Strip that increased during the pandemic. Metro investigated at least eight shootings on the Strip in a one-month stretch last fall.

“No one in this state should have to live, regardless of where they live or where they’re going, under the fear of being shot, regardless of where that is coming from,” Cannizzaro said. “Right now there is a significant danger to individuals who work in casinos, who are there to do their jobs, and for individuals who are visiting those premises.”

The bill has the support of gaming giant MGM Resorts International.

Opponents of the bill are widespread, ranging from police unions to the Nevada Republican Party to the American Civil Liberties Union. The more liberal of these groups argue the measures allowing casinos to call police on suspected gun owners would lead to racial profiling, while conservative opponents generally argue against the bill on Second Amendment grounds.

Athar Haseebullah, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, took to Twitter after the vote, calling the bill “arguably the most racist piece of legislation by any Democratic body anywhere in years.”

Neal discussed those concerns in a floor statement explaining her no vote, stating she had heard her constituents express concerns about policing and potential ramifications.

“Sometimes there are bills where you cannot, in good conscience, go against your constituents,” Neal said.

The bill now goes to the Assembly.