Our lawmakers in Carson City passed numerous bills governing all areas of the law in their 2021 session, even during the pandemic they were hard at work. Many of these laws focused on Government and Social Services. Our legislature was busy addressing many inequities based upon race and socio-economic position. They updated our laws to provide expanded services for disabled people and allowing homeless youth to make their own health care decisions. coverages to address these disparities. The following is a summary of the Open Government bill and the laws governing social services that were passed by our Nevada legislature during the 2021 session.
Senate Bill 77:This Bill exempts from state Open Meeting Law certain pre-decision and deliberative public meetings involving National Environmental Policy Act proceedings. This bill is intended to allow local officials to discuss the bill before the open government groups begin. Specifically, the law is amended as follows:
Section 1. Chapter 241 of NRS is hereby amended by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:
1. A public body that has entered into a memorandum of understanding or other agreement with a federal agency for the purpose of engaging with the federal agency on an action under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., may hold a closed meeting to engage in predicational and deliberative discussions on the subject of the memorandum or agreement. Any such discussions in a closed meeting must:
(a) Occur only during the period before the federal agency publicly releases the document addressing the action under the National Environmental Policy Act and begins the corresponding
public comment period; and
(b) Be required by the federal agency to be kept confidential under the memorandum of understanding or other agreement.
2. If a public body holds a closed meeting pursuant to subsection 1, the public body shall not include any item in the discussions for the closed meeting other than the subject of the memorandum or agreement entered into with the federal agency.
Assembly Bill 62: This Bill allows the state treasurer to seek private donations to fund start-up ABLE savings accounts before the age of twenty-six to save money in a specific account for Nevadans with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The ABLE Act allows individuals who were previously deemed to be disabled to open accounts and not jeopardize the government benefits they desperately need. Before this act was passed, a person with a disability who relied on benefits provided by the government to survive, such as SSI and Medicaid, could lose those benefits if they had more than $2,000.00 . The loss of those benefits could mean the loss of housing, employment, transportation and other critical benefits that they receive. The ABLE Act allows people with disabilities to save money and feel more secure without being penalized.
Effective April 21, 2021.
Assembly Bill 138: Reverses the law that made those convicted of felony drug crimes ineligible for federal food or family assistance. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are currently serving time for drug offenses in our country. Some statistics say it is more than a half-million people. For many of these citizens, leaving prison with a felony conviction on their record creates an added level of difficulty in re-entering society. A 1996 federal law blocks felons with drug convictions from receiving welfare or food stamps unless the individual states choose to waive the restrictions.
The ban that was imposed did not apply to those with convictions for any other crimes. These bans on public programs were put into place as part of a sweeping reform of the nation’s welfare system in the 1990’s at a time when the “war on drugs” was in full swing. Two decades later, many states are rethinking this position and trying to help people released from prison for drug conviction re-enter society and become productive citizens. The goal is to reduce the likelihood they will return to prison.
Since 1996, 18 states have reversed these restrictions on food stamps, also known as the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” and allow people with certain types of drug felonies to be eligible those benefits. While states can make changes to welfare and food stamp policy, it primarily falls to the federal government to remove the hurdles that released drug felons face in receiving various government benefits for education, nutrition and housing assistance.
In 2006, the federal government opened college grants and loans to those convicted of a drug felony which reversed a 1998 policy. However, if someone is convicted of a drug crime while receiving aid, they will lose the aid until they complete treatment or prove sobriety which seems perfectly reasonable if the program is also paid for by the government. Otherwise, they are back at square one and likely to recommit a crime.
Effective July 1, 2021.
Assembly Bill 197: Authorizes minors who do not live with their parents or legal guardian to consent to certain health services for themselves or their children. The need for this bill reflects a very sad issue facing our community. There is a rising trend of homeless youth in Southern Nevada. I was shocked to learn that our state ranks fourth in the nation in total number of unaccompanied homeless youth. In addition, sadly, Nevada ranks first in the nation in rates of Unsheltered Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. The rate of unaccompanied youth (aka homelessness) in Southern Nevada is greater than the state as a whole and far exceeds the national average (24.7% compared to 6.54%). Another shocking fact is that 2,794 minors were rescued from human sex trafficking by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department from 1994 through 2016. This is a number that shocked my conscious. The need to allow minors to make their own decisions will continue to grow in all areas of the law as long as these numbers exist.
These numbers have been on the rise for the past several years . Recent data from Clark County School District (CCSD) shows that this trend of an increasing youth homeless population has gone unabated in Southern Nevada. CCSD data reports show that the number of families with children and unaccompanied youth who identify themselves as homeless has gone up over the years from 9,284 children in 2013-2014 to almost 11,000 children in the 2016-2017 school year. There are many organizations trying to help these kids including the following:
Shannon West Homeless Youth Center
1640 E Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Hearts 4 Angels Ranch/Shelter For Homeless Teens
3960 Howard Hughes Pkwy Suite 508, Las Vegas, NV 89169
5599 S Pecos Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89120
If you are able to help in anyway, these organizations are allowing taking donations to help these homeless youth.
Effective May 27, 2021.
Assembly Bill 406: This bill requires casinos to withhold casino gambling winnings from parents who owe child support. Although this law seems good on paper, enforcement may prove to be very difficult. There are thousands of parents who owe child support, and the statute requires that the paying entity have notice of the child support lien. The statute does not provide for the creation of a central data base that the casinos can access to check if child support is owed by the winner. Until there is a way for this to be conveyed to the casinos in Nevada, this will be a difficult provision to enforce.
Effective October 1, 2021.
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