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Hate crime bill dies in Nev. Senate; texting snag

By Deb Weinstein

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 25 2011 9:45 p.m. MDT

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A bill that would make it a hate crime to attack transgendered people died in the Senate on Monday, while the Assembly gave final legislative approval to a bill that strips the mining industry of eminent domain powers.

The Senate's roster of bills included three that dealt specifically with transgender discrimination. Two of them passed but SB180 failed with a 10-11 vote, with the deciding vote being that of Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas. It would have protected both individuals who are contemplating sex reassignment surgery as well as those who simply dress like the gender they identify with the most.

Lee, who said he supported two other gender expression bills out of compassion for God's creatures, said he could not support SB180 because it would require education about gender expression.

"Children should not be exposed to that," he told The Associated Press.

Lee said he informed Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, before the floor session that he was going to vote against the bill. He said had not discussed it with anyone prior to the vote. Lee also said current law extends adequate protection.

Lee's move is also an upset of sorts. Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, told his peers before the vote that Gov. Brian Sandoval said he would likely sign the bill if it were to cross his desk. Parks also noted the governor co-sponsored hate crime legislation when he served in the Assembly in 1995.

Senators approved housing discrimination bill SB368 on vote of 13-8. The bill extends Fair Housing Law protections to include discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

"This is just the right thing to do," said Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas.

A landlord, Schneider said, "This is not putting a burden on me, and you know, I just can't believe anyone wouldn't vote for this."

SB331 cleared the chamber 11-10. The bill prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation, including hotels, hospitals, food pantries, casinos and restaurants.

"It's about basic fairness, human dignity and human rights," said Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Horsford said the gender identity bills were not about "creating special rights of a certain class of citizens."

"It is about explicitly extending equal protection of the law to people who are often the targets of discrimination," he said.

Texting bill SB140 proved sticky. The bill would make it illegal to text while driving. It also has provisions restricting GPS use, which brought up debate over what types of GPS modules would be permitted.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the bill's breadth caused him to reconsider his stance. "I would love if this bill just prohibited text messaging entirely. I would have no problem with that bill at all," he said.

No vote was taken Monday.

In the Assembly, SB86 to end the mining industry's eminent domain powers was approved 41-1. After the vote, Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, told reporters his nay vote was a mistake and he actually supports the bill because he's against anyone having the right to take private property.

The Assembly also approved AB59 on vote of 32-10. The bill gives the attorney general's office subpoena powers to investigate Open Meeting Law complaints and subjects members of public bodies to civil fines up to $500 for violations. That bill now goes to the Senate.

Two bills aiding Nevada's foster children also passed the Assembly, including AB154, which establishes a bill of rights for foster children and garnered unanimous support. The proposed law consolidates rights already guaranteed to the children, including the right to a safe place to live, the right to visit their siblings, and a right to attend or not attend religious services.

Another bill promoted by former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley funnels money to provide legal services for foster children. Buckley said the extra $2 fee for certain documents processed at a county recorder's office would ensure Nevada's children get a lawyer's help through their adoption cases, for example. The bill passed 32-10, with some Republican opposition.

Victims of sex trafficking would have the chance to get prostitution charges waived through AB6, which unanimously passed the Assembly.

"We'll never be able to return or renew what they've lost," said bill sponsor Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas. "This bill gives them a chance to start anew."

Legislators face a Tuesday deadline when any bills that fail to pass out of the house of origin by then will die.

Associated Press Writer Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

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