Published Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | 12:54 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | 5:37 p.m.
CARSON CITY — Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a trio of gun-control bills Wednesday while his office threatened to ax the state budget if his priorities aren’t addressed, in the strongest conflict yet for Nevada’s split-party government.
It’s a combative shift for Lombardo, who previously said he would not use the “big hammer of veto” to get his school-choice legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. He has remained tight-lipped on several ambitious Democratic proposals, including the gun control measures before Wednesday.
The moves came a day after Democratic leadership said they would kill Lombardo’s sweeping school-safety bill, which would remove requirements for students to be expelled for certain acts amid a reported uptick in school violence. They instead invited him to pitch the measure as an amendment to a similar bill that they’re pushing. Lombardo’s school-choice proposals, with various mechanisms at providing public funding to help students access private schools, have also received an icy reception by Democrats.
If a budget is not approved by July 1, state services, including schools and state agencies, may shut down.
“If he follows through and stakes out an extremist position, he will have to explain to Nevadans why their kids’ schools are not opening on time, public safety services are reduced, and other essential state services are shut down,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in a statement.
Lombardo’s office did not provide additional comment on the budget veto threat beyond confirming his position.
Meanwhile, the trio of gun-control bills marked the first vetoes of Lombardo’s tenure since becoming the only Republican to unseat an incumbent Democratic governor in the 2022 midterms. The move could be an early indication of how Lombardo will respond to other party-line measures that come from the Legislature.
“I will not support legislation that infringes on the constitutional rights of Nevadans,” Lombardo said in a statement announcing his vetoes.
One of the gun-control bills would have raised the eligible age to possess semiautomatic shotguns and assault weapons from 18 to 21. Another would have barred possession of a gun within 100 yards (91 meters) of an election site entrance with narrow exceptions, while also solidifying language meant to ban homemade “ghost guns.” A third bill would have prohibited owning a firearm within a decade of a gross misdemeanor or felony hate-crime conviction.
The vetoes came moments before a news conference scheduled by Democratic leadership and gun control advocacy groups to urge Lombardo to sign the legislation. Standing in front of the legislative building, they chastised his decision.
“I desperately wish the governor would put the safety of Nevadans ahead of partisan politics,” said Democratic Assembly Majority Floor Leader Sandra Jauregui, who sponsored two of the bills and survived the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.
She said the bills would better protect Nevada in the wake of recent mass shootings, including one this week in New Mexico, where an 18-year-old gunman killed three and injured six.
Lombardo, the Clark County sheriff at the time of the Las Vegas mass shooting, had previously bucked other Republicans by supporting background checks. But he still positions himself as firmly pro-Second Amendment while touting his NRA membership. He vowed on the campaign trail to veto any legislation curtailing access to “ghost guns,” which can be nearly impossible for law enforcement officials to trace.
In his veto letters, Lombardo cited recent court rulings that struck down gun-control legislation, including one that nullified a similar law in California that would ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21.
He said that existing law sufficiently addresses people convicted of hate crimes and the bill “would effectively open the door to more laws” for those convicted of gross misdemeanors. He added that the bill prohibiting firearms from election sites is “commendable” but too broad.
Democratic leaders — who hold a veto-proof supermajority in the state Assembly and are one away from that in the Senate — said they would continue to press for gun-control legislation “with or without (Lombardo’s) cooperation.”
“We sent over three common sense options — bills, by the way, that Republicans are supporting in other states across this country today,” said Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris, who sponsored the bill prohibiting firearm possession ten years after a hate crime conviction. “And if this is how he wants to run his office, if these are the first bills he wants to veto, then game on.”
Lombardo, who steered a moderate path compared to his primary challengers in the 2022 midterms, has not commented on nearly every other bill still in play. This includes measures that would establish trust fund investments for the children of families who receive Medicaid known as “baby bonds,”criminalize fake electors and cap certain drug prices to federally negotiated Medicare rates.