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Sisolak pledges to sign public option health care bill

Updated June 1, 2021 - 9:45 pm

CARSON CITY — Nevada looks set to become the second state in the nation to enact a “public option” health insurance plan after Gov. Steve Sisolak said he intends to put his signature to state Democrats’ signature health care legislation.

“I’m going to sign the public option (bill),” Sisolak said in a wide-ranging, post-Legislature interview Tuesday with reporters. The first-term Democrat also explained his reasoning for not supporting the failed death penalty ban, where his signature “innovation zones” concept goes from here and more.

While billed as a “public option” by supporters, Nevadans who purchase plans via the system created by Senate Bill 420 won’t be buying their insurance directly from the state.

Instead, the legislation will create something closer to a public-private partnership in which insurance companies that participate in the state’s Medicaid program will be required to offer middle-tier plans on the state health care exchange that could cost 5 percent less than similar plans starting in 2026, and as much as 15 percent less by 2030.

But questions remain about how effective the plan would be at lowering overall costs for health care premiums and chipping away at the state’s high uninsured rate, the two major claims made by the bill’s supporters.

SB 420 also includes an actuarial study to look at what kind of impact the additional option could have on those areas, and Sisolak said he was “really happy” that the study stayed in the bill.

“Anytime there’s an opportunity to get health care coverage available for more Nevadans, it’s certainly something I’m interested in,” he said.

Nevada had 349,000 uninsured residents in 2019, and it ranked seventh in the nation for highest percentage of uninsured at 11.5 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The rate among Hispanics is nearly 22 percent, according to the foundation.

Washington was the first state with a similar structure after it passed the law to create Cascade Care in 2019.

Death penalty

The bid to ban the death penalty in Nevada stalled again after multiple previous attempts.

This year’s push via Assembly Bill 395 saw a very public death, with the governor announcing May 13 that there was “no path forward” for the bill.

Sisolak has said on multiple occasions that he opposes the death penalty in most cases but believes it should remain on the books for severe cases such as mass shootings and terrorism.

The governor said he thinks the ban, which has been brought up in each of the past three legislative sessions, needs to be discussed in the future and that he wants to hear more from victims’ families and consider what specific exceptions he would be comfortable with.

Sisolak said he hasn’t been approached about any possible moratorium on capital punishment amid those talks, an idea brought up by public defenders last month.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo recently announced that he is running for governor in 2022 as a Republican. But Sisolak said there was “zero” consideration about being perceived as soft on crime given the potential matchup against one of the state’s top law enforcement officers.

“When I make legislative decisions, they have nothing to do with my political opponents,” Sisolak said.

Natural gas ban

A bill died in the session that would have implemented Sisolak’s Climate Initiative by enacting a plan to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas used in commercial and residential buildings by 95 percent in 2050. A week later, Sisolak and Democratic legislative leaders issued statements calling for further discussion on the future of natural gas.

Sisolak said there was a concern about the cost of implementing the bill, especially in lower-income communities.

The governor said he’s still committed to the climate initiative’s goal of moving away from natural gas by 2050, but they need to “do a little bit more analysis” on the area.

“It’s not gonna affect my generation or the generation of people around this table. It’s going to affect the generations coming after us, and we need to do more. And I’m committed to being part of them,” he said.

Nonfunctional turf ban

The governor didn’t directly commit to signing Assembly Bill 356, which would save Southern Nevada about 12 billion gallons of water per year by banning the use of Colorado River water to irrigate “nonfunctional” turf that isn’t on single-family unit properties, saying that he wanted to read the entire bill first.

But Sisolak called the proposal a “great idea.”

“I think that it’s incumbent upon us, for the next generation, to be more conscious of our conservation of natural resources, water being particularly important,” Sisolak said.

Innovation zones

A signature economic development proposal rolled out during his State of the State speech before the session began, Sisolak’s “innovation zones” failed to garner much support among lawmakers from either party. The proposal to allow wealthy tech companies to form county-like governments will instead be studied as a concept over the next seven months.

The governor admitted that the legislation was “a big lift,” but he said it was misunderstood and blamed critics for calling it a “company town” bill.

Sisolak said he hopes that the committee of lawmakers that will be looking at the concept will see that “this is a possibility.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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