Nevada Democratic state Senate caucus issues statement on Nevada's failed religious freedom bill

I finally induced Governor Brian Sandoval to utter a safe statement about it.  And his anointed choice for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Mark Hutchison, has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle over it.

But, unsolicited (although my producer did try to get Majority Leader Mo Denis on "Ralston Reports" today to talk about it), I heard today from the Nevada Senate Democrats, who sent me a statement on SB 192, the proposed Preservation of Religious Freedom Act proposed by Hutchison and Barbara Cegavaske and originally signed onto by 17 of 21 state senators. The statement comes amid controversy over that Arizona religious freedom bill, which is much more explicit in its discriminatory language than was the Nevada bill, which was criticized by the ACLU and national groups as being too broadly constructed.

Here's the statement, which is somewhat tortured and utterly transparent in its intent:

The Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus is made up of one of the most diverse group of legislators in the nation. It was because of our majority in the State Senate that SJR13, the marriage equality bill, passed last session – paving the way for all Nevadans to be treated fairly and equally under the law. It was our Caucus member, Senator Pat Spearman, who introduced Senate Bill 139, which extends hate crime protections to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender identity or expression. Our entire Caucus joined Senator Spearman in pushing for this landmark legislation and voted in full support of this bill.  

The vote in favor of Senate Bill 192 by some of our Caucus members was not intended to put into law the same discriminatory measures as outlined in the Arizona legislation. In fact, SB192 contained specific language not included in the AZ legislation making clear that it did not trump federal or state civil rights. SB192 was the consequence of trying to find a balance between protecting religious rights in our State, while also making sure we expand equal rights under the law for all Nevadans.

Looking at the landscape since Senate Bill 192 was passed in the Senate last year and some of the consequences seen in other states with similar laws, we want to make clear that our members who voted in favor did not do so with the intention to discriminate against any group of people. If similar legislation were to be introduced in future legislative sessions, the Nevada Senate Democrats would stand together to unanimously oppose it. 

Here's why the Democrats might be nervous: Four of their caucus members voted for the Nevada bill that died in the Assembly. They are: Denis, Justin Jones, Tick Segerblom and Ruben Kihuen. And Aaron Ford, Debbie Smith, David Parks and Joyce Woodhosue all co-sponsored the original before voting against it after concerns were raised about how the broad language invited abuse.
Ford told me today via email:  I refer you the attached Committee Minutes (here, too), which detail (1) my initial understanding of the Bill; (2) my subsequent concern about the bill being used to discriminate and (3) my requirement that, to retain my support for the Bill, and to protect people from discrimination, language would have to be included that the Bill would prohibit discrimination and not allow the bill to be an end-run around our anti-discrimination laws.  The Primary Bill Sponsors, Senators Cegavske and Hutchison, agreed to include that language. After Committee passage, I received examples from various groups of bills such as SB192 being used to violate women's reproductive rights under the Constitution. I mentioned this in my Floor Statement. That's why I ultimately decided not to support the Bill.
Indeed, when the bill got to the Senate floor, state Sen. Pat Spearman responded to Hutchison's impassioned plea to pass it (it did, 14-7), by saying:
However, with regard to religion, one of the 
most vicious terrorist groups to ever exist in America, “The Night Riders” took their pictures in 
front of crosses. When they wanted to make a statement about hatred or about certain people not 
belong here, they did it with a symbol of the cross. 
 With respect to whether or not this does or does not ameliorate those facts, I have to stand 
with my colleague from Senate District No. 11 (Ford) and say I am not convinced. History is replete 
with examples of how people have used religion as a scapegoat, as a cloak to discriminate. 
Whether because of culture, ethnicity, affection, orientation or other things, people can find 
religion a convenient cloak to mask what otherwise would be called discrimination. 
The ACLU and Lambda Legal submitted testimony -- I have attached that here, too -- raising serious concerns. You can read the floor debate here, including Hutchison's plea for passage, along with other documents. The entire Nelis record, with testimony submitted pro and con, is here.

As for the governor, here's what his spokesman told me: "Governor Sandoval does not support the Arizona law.  Had any Nevada legislation that looked like the Arizona bill arrived on the Governor’s desk, he would have vetoed it."

Clever. The Nevada law was not the Arizona law, and just about everyone is against the Arizona law.

Not too many Democrats to make an issue of this with the governor, though, right Nevada senators?