Wednesday, 05 August 2020 21:34

Senators Advance Bill that Would Shield Nevada Businesses from COVID-19 Liability

Written by John Sadler, Las Vegas Sun


State senators, by an overwhelming majority, early Aug. 4 advanced legislation that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to Nevada businesses, nonprofits, schools and governmental agencies while also outlining several measures intended to protect hospitality workers.

Senators, sitting as the Committee of the Whole, supported the measure on an 18-3 vote after the late-night hearing. Sens. Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, cast the lone votes against the bill, which now advances to the Senate floor for final action as lawmakers continue to meet in special session.


In introducing the bill, Michelle White, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s chief of staff, cited Nevada’s hard-hit economic structure due to the state’s overreliance on gaming and tourism and stressed the need for the bill to strike a balance between protecting businesses and workers.


“No other state in the country is as dependent on the travel and tourism industry as Nevada,” White said. “Our meetings and conventions, and the 42 million visitors we welcome each year are the crux of our economic engine.”


The bill is likely the last piece of legislation to be introduced in the ongoing special session, and is the culmination of lobbying by business and tourism industry groups to protect themselves from litigation due to the pandemic.


The legislation extends COVID-19 liability protections to many businesses, nonprofits, schools and governmental entities that have “substantially complied with controlling health standards.” Provisions of the bill would sunset either upon the termination of the current state of emergency or in July 2023.


It does not extend to most private health care providers, which Hansen said set up hospitals to be a “sacrificial lamb” to trial lawyers.


Unease with the bill’s focus on the tourism and gaming industry crossed party lines. Sen. Marcia Washington, D-North Las Vegas, said she was concerned why the bill singled out hospitality workers.


“I’m here to represent, as far as I’m concerned, represent everybody, all the workers in the state of Nevada,” Washington said.


The bill contains a list of worker protections for hospitality workers, many of which match what has been dubbed the Adolfo Fernandez bill, proposed legislation from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents more than 50,000 hospitality workers in Nevada.. Adolfo Fernandez was a former utility porter on the Las Vegas Strip who died after contracting COVID-19.


The worker protections in the bill, which apply only to Clark and Washoe counties, require the testing of employees returning to work for COVID-19, daily temperature screenings of employees, notification within 24 hours to employees found to have been in contact with an employee or customer who tested positive for COVID-19, and stops employers from requiring employees with COVID-19 symptoms from returning to work while they wait for test results. It also requires employers to give any employee who tests positive 14 days off, of which 10 must be paid.

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