Friday, June 10, 2011 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — In Carson City, they talk of budgets in billions — with a b — and the long-range effect of policy as if bills were fluttering butterfly wings in Indonesia capable of creating hurricanes off the Florida coast.
They set spending levels for K-12 schools, colleges and universities and social programs such as welfare. They also write and revamp laws that affect more mundane aspects of life — staffing at the DMV, rules of the road or how to shop for a hospital. Here are six bills passed by the 2011 Legislature that might affect you:
Photo by Drew Perine/AP
1. Cellphones and driving
Nevada roads might be safer, but a little less free. Talking on a handheld cellphone while driving and texting while driving will be illegal if Gov. Brian Sandoval signs Senate Bill 140.
Officers will be giving out warnings until Jan. 1. After that, the fine is $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for the third offense within seven years.
You can still talk on the phone if you have a hands-free device. (The law, thankfully, allows you to use your hands to “activate, deactivate or initiate a feature or function on the device.”) Those who don’t like the bill can console themselves by buying stock in RadioShack, which is sure to sell a lot of earpieces in the coming months.
2. Smoking in bars
If the cellphone ban was a blow to Nevada’s libertarian image, Assembly Bill 571 more than makes up for it. It will now be legal to smoke and eat in 21-and-over establishments despite voters’ wishes.
The bill changed a voter-approved ban on locations serving food and allowing smoking.
In a clever bit of framing, so-called “smoking bill” advocates tried to rebrand it as the “cheeseburger bill.” Instead, locations that only admit those over 21 will be allowed to serve food and allow smoking if they choose. The bill awaits the governor’s signature.
Photo by Justin M. Bowen
3. Boulder City toll road
Boulder City — a nice place to live, maybe not the nicest place to drive. To get around the traffic backup in Boulder City that has plagued the town since the new bridge to Arizona opened, Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, got legislative approval for a toll road pilot project that would route nonlocal traffic around the town. Sandoval is expected to sign the bill.
The bypass would cost $400 million, and be privately financed. And no charge could be placed on existing roads. The bill though requires the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to enter into an agreement for the design, planning and construction. The toll road would connect the area in the vicinity of U.S. 93/95 Mile Post 58 to U.S. 93 Mile Post 2.
Photo by Sam Morris
4. $3 cab fee cemented in law
If you use cabs and credit/debit cards in Las Vegas it’ll continue to cost you more.
Cab companies in Southern Nevada quietly began assessing a $3 fee each time a passenger swiped a credit card to pay a fare. It’s a rate that some lawmakers and credit card companies say is too high.
It also might not have been explicitly allowed in law. One cab company, Frias Transportation, fought to get the fee put into state law. The bill passed despite objections.
Photo by Leila Navidi
5. Do No Harm
Patients will be able to compare hospitals and medical facilities’ safety records by looking at data the facilities have to report to the state. The Nevada Health and Human Services Department will establish a website to compare rates of infections, preventable accidents and other so-called “sentinel events.”
Sandoval has signed one bill that would make data available. Other bills that would present even more information — such as how often patients are readmitted to hospitals — await his signature.
6. Campaign finance law
Maybe you think campaign finance law only matters if you’re a gadfly. But much legislation can be tied back to one powerful source — campaign contributions.
Until this session, Nevada’s system has been opaque, regularly receiving an F from national watchdog groups. But Assembly Bill 452, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, would change that. Lawmakers would have to file campaign expenses and contributions electronically with the secretary of state’s office. That, according to a spokeswoman, would allow people to sort campaign contributions by donor and amount, providing greater transparency to everything the Legislature does, from taxi fees to hospital regulations.