Steve Sisolak, Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades, proposed a sweeping list of progressive initiatives Wednesday as he called for the state to welcome immigrants and find a way to enforce a gun background check law that was never enacted.
Sisolak laid out his priorities in an inaugural State of the State speech in Carson City on Wednesday night before the Democratic-controlled Legislature. His nearly hour-long address drew plenty of applause from the liberal-majority lawmakers and a fair amount from Republicans.
The new governor paid tribute to the women in the chamber who make up the country’s first female-majority state Legislature, calling it a milestone “that’s been generations in the making.”
Sisolak, who helped start a fundraiser for the victims of the 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, said he is working with the Legislature to find a way to enforce Nevada’s 2016 gun background check law. The measure was approved by voters but the state’s then-Republican governor and attorney general said it was flawed and could not be enforced. A lawsuit calling for the law to be enforced is still tied up in court, but Sisolak said he wants to find a way to get it done.
“It’s long past time we listen to the voters and enact these changes because background checks save lives,” he said.
The Democrat also wants to ban bump stocks, which the gunman used in the Las Vegas mass shooting to modify his guns to mimic the firing of a fully automatic weapon.
Sisolak, who spent a decade on the Clark County Commission before he defeated Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt in November, said in his speech Wednesday that the state is “full of opportunity” and proposed a range of liberal moves, from raising the minimum wage to creating a state office to welcome immigrants. He offered few specifics on how the proposals would be paid for.
Sisolak said his Office for New Americans will assist immigrants as they navigate government programs and build businesses, and also help young immigrants who have been shielded from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Donald Trump has tried repeatedly to limit.
Throughout his speech, Sisolak became emotional and he choked up when he called his new role as governor the “honor of a lifetime.”
Sisolak did not specify how high he wants to raise Nevada’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage but said he wanted to work with the Legislature.
The new governor plans to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors over the last three decades in fighting plans by the U.S. government to revive the shuttered nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
“Not one ounce of nuclear waste will ever reach Yucca Mountain while I’m governor,” Sisolak said. “Not on my watch.”
Sisolak spoke about a commission he proposed on the campaign trail that will take a deep dive into the state’s health care system and look at how to strengthen Affordable Care Act protections and combat rising drug prices.
He also wants to create a new office that advocates for small businesses and a new Cannabis Compliance Board, which will regulate the state’s legal pot dispensaries like the state’s Gaming Commission oversees casinos.
“We will manage and grow this new industry strictly and fairly and in a way the state can be proud of,” Sisolak said.
Though he plans to release details of his proposed budget on Thursday, Sisolak said he’s asking for a 3 percent pay raise for state employees and K-12 teachers. It’s unclear what that would cost, but the teacher pay raise drew a standing ovation from most in the room.
He’s also proposing spending $3 million a year for women’s health care, including family planning and cervical cancer screenings, and $800,000 to eliminate a waitlist for the Meals on Wheels program delivering meals to seniors.
Despite Nevada’s tremendous economic growth in recent years, Sisolak said he wants to harden the state to prepare for an eventual financial slowdown by boosting its rainy day fund. He’s not calling for any new taxes or tax increases.
Senate Republicans released a statement applauding Sisolak’s pledge not to increase taxes, saying Nevada needs to “stay on course to continue to grow our economy.”
Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who delivered the official GOP response to Sisolak’s speech, said Republicans will stand their ground on issues of personal responsibility, limited government spending and individual freedom but know “that Nevada families expect us to find common ground.”
Gansert cited education, tackling the opioid crisis and renewable energy as areas where common ground could be reached.