By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager said Tuesday on Nevada Newsmakers that he has gotten along well — so far — with Governor Joe Lombardo.
“I think we have a very positive relationship,” Yeager told host Sam Shad. “We communicate on a regular basis and I think we are getting to know each other a little bit.”
Both are new at their jobs and hope to make a good impression. Yeager, a Democrat, is in his first legislative session as the leader of the Assembly and wields a solid Democratic majority in the lower house.
Lombardo, a Republican, is in his first year as governor, and comes in with an aggressive agenda laid out in his State of the State speech in January.
“Truthfully, we haven’t gotten to a lot of the contentious issues because I think those bills are still coming,” Yeager said of the pace of the legislative session. “I think we will agree on a lot of things and I think there are some really important things that we won’t agree on and I think we’ll be able to work through those.”
Yeager spoke of three major points of contention he sees with Gov. Lombardo — elections, school vouchers and criminal justice reform.
“He’s going to have an elections bill,” Yeager said. “I think that he probably tries to scale back on some of the access to the polls that we’ve done over the years. Mail-in ballots, those sort of things. I mean, that’s going to be contentious. That was a signature priority.
“There going to be bills around vouchers and taking public money, giving them to private schools,” Yeager continued. “You know, that’s tough for a lot of my (Democratic) colleagues.
“And then there’s going to be a criminal justice bill (from Lombardo) that I think is going to look to try to scale back or repeal some of what we did in Assembly Bill 236 from 2019.
“So, you know, I think those three in particular are probably going to be contentious in the sense that they’re not going to come over to us and everyone’s going to say, ‘These are great bills and we should pass them,'” Yeager said. “There would be a lot of work to do if we’re going to be able to get those bills passed.”
Lombardo has made statements on each issue Yeager raises:
* Lombardo has been critical of the Democratic-supported legislation that gave Nevada universal mail-in ballots in 2020. He wants a return to the opt-in mail ballot system that was used before the pandemic. He also wants to implement a voter ID law and has been critical of what he called “ballot harvesting” by Democrats.
* He also made school choice (vouchers for parents) a central issue of his gubernatorial campaign.
* And in a June 2022 interview with Nevada Newsmakers, Lombardo said a “soft judiciary” system in Nevada and the Legislature’s sweeping criminal reform legislation are hampering efforts to fight crime.
“Individuals we think are bad actors are incarcerated by my police department and the other associated police departments here in Southern Nevada,” he said on Nevada Newsmakers, while he was the Clark County sheriff. “And then we see them back on the street with a slap on the hand and it is very frustrating for us.”
Lombardo may yet see the benefit of the Democrats’ criminal justice reform, Yeager said.
“The whole philosophy behind the criminal justice bill was we save money by reducing the prison population, not building new prisons,” Yeager said. “And we take some of that money we save and we reinvested in the system.”
He hopes his “justice reinvestment” plan gains traction this session, saying it has been delayed by the pandemic.
“So this year, I actually have a bill appropriating $3 million to what’s called the local coordinating council,” Yeager said. “So that was created by the bill. And it’s a group of criminal justice stakeholders who would have access to that money and be able to grant it out to partner agencies such as the DA, the public defender, parole and probation and specialty courts — basically looking at the needs and where they are and being able to fund it.
“So I think if that bill gets up and down (passed by both houses), there’s a possibility to be able to fill some of those gaps. We’ve got grant money in the past, nationally, to help this criminal justice reform. And we actually did provide some of that to the district attorney’s office to hire some folks.”
Yeager also does not share Lombardo’s concern over ‘ballot harvesting,’ which is when a third-party collects completed mail-in or absentee ballots and submits them.
“I know they like to use the phrase ‘ballot harvesting,’ but I view it more as you can take your neighbor or your friend or your family member’s ballot and drop it off for them,” Yeager said. “So, I mean, there could be legislation around that, but I just don’t see it as an issue here in the state.”
The number of mail-in ballots make it difficult to quickly count and conclude elections, Yeager said.
“I understand people would like the results quicker, but we are a competitive state, and so it takes time to get things right and to make sure that, you know, we’re actually verifying every single signature,” he said. “And so to me, that’s a blessing that it takes some time.”
Yeager said he is confident, overall, in the credibility of Nevada elections.
“I am, yeah. I think we have some of the most safe and secure elections in the country,” he said. “You know, if you look at our last four secretaries of state, including the one we have now, we have two Democrats and two Republicans. And I think Nevada has been a national model for how we do it.
“We’ve had very little evidence of any election fraud,” Yeager continued. “I can remember a couple one-off cases that were prosecuted, I think both by Republicans who tried to vote twice or tried to vote for a dead person. So I’m comfortable with that.”