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Dems, Latino caucus outline plan to expand Medicaid eligibility


Dems, Latino caucus outline plan to expand Medicaid eligibility

Feb 07, 2023 | 9:02 am ET
By Michael Lyle
Dems, Latino caucus outline plan to expand Medicaid eligibility
State Sen. Fabian Doñate and Viridiana Vidal in Carson City Monday. (Photo: Alejandra Rubio)

A group of Democratic lawmakers proposed expanding Medicaid for Nevadans regardless of immigration status and vowed to address housing affordability and expand mental health access on the first day of the 82nd Legislative Session. 

Ahead of the official start of the session Monday, members of the newly renamed Nevada Latino Legislative Caucus outlined priorities that would benefit residents but especially the state’s Latino population.

One of the top priorities is legislation seeking to expand Medicaid eligibility no matter a person’s citizenship, said state Sen. Fabian Doñate, the chair of the caucus.

Doñate said they have not approached Gov. Joe Lombardo about the proposal but “hoped Lombardo would join us in our effort.”

Lombardo’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon. 

“We know that’s an issue many of our families have been asking for,” Doñate said. 

Doñate, who grew up in a household with parents who had union-based health insurance, said he knows his family “practically won the lottery when it comes to health insurance” but acknowledged it’s not the same for everyone. 

The caucus, he said, was still assessing numbers to determine how many people an expansion would cover. 

According to a 2019 Guinn Center report, about 7% of the state population, or roughly 210,000 Nevadans, were “unauthorized immigrants”

“If the national average uninsurance rate for unauthorized immigrants holds in Nevada, that would mean that roughly 94,500 unauthorized immigrants were not covered,” the report notes. 

Doñate and other lawmakers during the Nevada Latino Legislative Caucus press event offered few specifics about the legislation.

“Let us not turn a blind eye to skyrocketing rents “

Also during the press conference, Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who was sworn in as the Assembly Majority floor leader Monday, said housing legislation would focus on rent affordability and accessibility to homeownership.

Legal advocates and housing justice organizers have called on legislators to bolster tenant protections, including reforming Nevada’s summary eviction law, which requires a tenant to file first with the court after receiving a notice. Advocates have also called for reining in rental application fees. 

While speaking at a Nevada Independent event last month, Lombardo said he was open to reforming the summary eviction process

“This is day one of the legislative session so we haven’t seen every bill that has been proposed but I know the Latino Legislative Caucus is eager to support legislation to protect Nevada tenants and homeowners,” Assemblywoman Selena Torres said when asked about eviction legislation.

Two members of the caucus, Doñate and Assemblywoman Cecelia González, have cosponsored legislation this session to regulate application fees and deposits as well as lengthen the time period for no-cause evictions. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 78, wasn’t mentioned during the press conference.

A similar bill offering modest regulations on deposit fees and rental application passed the Senate in 2021, but died when Jauregui didn’t give it a hearing

Other proposals lawmakers spoke on included looking at ways to remove barriers to the teacher licensing process to fill statewide vacancies, and ensuring state informational materials and emergency directives are translated for communities that need it. 

State Sen. Edgar Flores said during the Covid pandemic, oftentimes emergency directives weren’t translated quickly enough and communities were left without pertinent information. 

“We had a housing crisis and even with great resources existing we had an unfortunate reality that communities that need them don’t know it’s there,” he said. 

Assemblyman Steve Yeager was officially elected as the speaker, winning unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans. 

“I’m most thankful it did not take 15 rounds of voting,” he said referring to U.S. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s raucous, nearly week-long struggle to win election to the position.

Yeager named education spending, Nevada’s housing crisis and gaps in mental health services as among top priorities of the session.

“Let us not turn a blind eye to skyrocketing rents or the looming eviction crisis threatening so many in our state,” he said. 

He called on lawmakers to dedicate “time and resources to provide access to stable and affordable housing to keep Nevadans.”

Yeager also said the session would work to fill gaps in mental health services, but didn’t offer further details. 

“I’m not proud to say it, but Nevada has missed the mark when it comes to mental health,” he said. “For both youth and adults. For far too long there was a large gap between the investments Nevadans needed and the investments that were made. People were left behind.”

Yeager also honored past Speakers citing their experiences as lessons lawmakers could use today. 

“In 2013 Speaker (Marylin) Kirkpatrick asked, will we continue to be a state that continues to apply nickel sized solutions to dollar sized problems?” Yeager said.  “I’m confident it will not be.”