Q&A: The Native Tuition Waiver Bill & Voting Rights in Nevada

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring Nevada Assemblymember Natha Anderson, Marla McDade Williams (TeMoak Shoshone), and Rani Williams (Agai Dicutta Numu - Walker River Paiute.)

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How will the tuition waiver bill (AB262) help Native communities?

Assemblymember Natha Anderson: AB262 would do two things: 

(1) grant in-state tuition to students from federally recognized Native American tribes who do not reside in Nevada

 (2) grant a full waiver for costs from the Nevada System of Higher Education to students who are members or descendants of federally recognized tribes in Nevada

So this is an opportunity for us to invest in our students.

It's also an opportunity to promote more professional diversity. For example, when I'm not serving in the Assembly, I'm a teacher. When I look around, I do not see many Native American teachers. There are a few, but we need more. Not just in education—we need to see more Native attorneys, doctors, bankers, realtors. It's not about the title; it's about that different point of view. 

Lastly, the Native American community has given so much to Nevada. One thing that they gave, without their permission, was the land that the Nevada System of Higher Education started on. That was both in Elko, where our first university was opened, and also at the University of Nevada, Reno, where it currently sits. We need to recognize the mistakes of the past and do something different.

Natha Anderson
Marla McDade Williams (TeMoak Shoshone)
Rani Williams (Agai Dicutta Numu - Walker River Paiute)

Can you tell us more about the "sundown siren" in Minden and efforts to limit it?

Marla McDade Williams: An amendment to AB88, the bill that would ban discriminatory mascot names, proposed limiting the sundown siren in Minden. Like racially discriminatory mascots, the siren is a symbol that continues to inflict trauma on Native people. When the dominant society holds on to offensive symbols, it's almost as if it's a way to continually remind Native people that they aren't worthy of respect. So legislation goes a long way to help heal some of the traumas that Native people have lived with for a very long time.

How would AB321 help voting access for Native Americans in Nevada?

Rainey Williams: AB321 formalizes several changes made during the coronavirus pandemic during the last election. 

One such change is that the bill extends the deadline for tribes to request a polling place. And once that request is made, and the location is established, it cannot be moved or removed unless a tribe requests it itself.

Another thing this voting bill does is make the mail-in ballot system used during the 2020 election permanent. Offering a mail-in ballot system really breaks down a major barrier to voting for on-reservation tribal voters. It's not news to anyone in Indian country that there's difficulty accessing the polls because of how rural some locations are.

Voters in the State of Nevada go to the polls on Election Day . Washoe County Nevada
Voters in Washoe County, Nevada go to the polls on Election Day

What is the significance of Swamp Cedars to Native people? 

Marla McDade Williams: Swamp Cedars is of cultural importance to tribes that historically used the area for gatherings and spiritual ceremonies. It was also the site of massacres. 

And the bodies and spirits of Native people killed there deserve respect, just like at the site of Little Bighorn. It's a huge step forward to recognize these historical areas and work with local tribes to protect them for their cultural value, and not just for their economic value.

I'm a student at the University of Nevada, Reno and I'm really interested in what other states are doing to build political power for Native communities.

Rainey Williams: I worked in Arizona, specifically for the last few election cycles for tribal communities. Tribes communicate with the elections departments constantly, even during off-cycle years when there's no voting happening. They discuss accessible polling locations, poll worker training, and how to get tribal members to become poll workers on the reservation. 

And it was completely homegrown. It was tribal members informing others and making sure the word got out: "Hey, this drop off location is happening at this time. Please be there if you can." 

It was really something to see. And if you followed the news during the election, you saw historic voter turnout on all Arizona reservations because of this grassroots effort.

submit opinion nevada legislature
Nevadans can submit their opinion on a bill on the Nevada Legislature website.

How can Nevadans participate in the legislative process?

Marla McDade Williams:   One way is to register to testify on a bill. And the other way is to submit an opinion on a bill. You do that by finding the bill on the legislature's website under the 2021 legislative session. Select the meetings link associated with the bill and then select, "Submit Opinion."

As State Legislature Goes Into Special Session, New Poll Shows Nevadans Support Action on Threats Created by COVID Crisis

Strong support for bold policy solutions to help working families and ensure the safety and accessibility of elections

As the Nevada state legislature is set to begin a special session to address COVID-19 related issues, a recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Nevada voters hold deep concerns over the risk that COVID-19 poses to their health, the impact on the economy and the election and they support bold policy action.   

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Nevada voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (89%). The majority of Nevadans report that they will vote either early in person (39%) or vote by mail (34%).  However one-in-five believe that they will go to the polls (22% on Election Day). 

Whether or not they are choosing to vote in person or by-mail, voters supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

"Nevadans want this legislature to take action to ensure all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote and aren’t forced to choose between their health and their vote," said Stacey Shinn, Nevada State Director for SiX.

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Nevada

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:  

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

By a three-to-one margin, voters believe Nevada state government should invest more in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (58%) rather than state government keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure and unemployment insurance (23%).

Nevada has been hard hit by the pandemic with over half of respondents reporting that they have been laid off or had their hours cut (52%).  Nevadans report they are concerned about the people losing work and income due to the virus (89%), small businesses and restaurants closing down permanently (89%) and people of Nevada unable to afford their rent or mortgage (81%).

Given the current crisis, Nevadans support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many and make life easier for working families:

These results show how hard hit Nevada has been by this pandemic. People all across this state are hurting and they strongly support bold policy action by this legislature,” said Shinn.

Click here for more results.


In Nevada: First Female Majority Legislature Makes Significant Progressive Gains in 2019

In 2019, Nevada made history by becoming the first female majority legislature in the history of the United States. With this historic majority, the Nevada Legislature made momentous headway into improving our democracy and economy for working people. Through recently passed legislation, thousands of Nevadans will now have improved access to the ballot box and greater protections in the workplace.

4 Ways Nevada Progressives Made Our Democracy Stronger

Native American Voting Access

Assemblyman Watts championed AB 137, which removes the requirement for tribal governments to gain approval from election officials every election cycle to establish polling sites. Unless tribal leaders request a change, election clerks are required to continue to recognize the established polling places. This was Assemblyman Watt’s first piece of legislation that was signed into law.

IMG 3161
Photo courtesy of Kit Milller.

Voting Restoration

Speaker Frierson led the charge to pass AB 431, a bill to restore the right to vote for convicted persons upon release from prison or discharge from parole or probation. Previously, a formerly incarcerated person had to petition to have their rights restored, as well as confusion about the law and process prevented many eligible Nevadans from voting. An estimated 77,000 citizen will regain their right to vote.

The signing of AB431

Voting Omnibus Bill

The most comprehensive voting rights bill, AB 345, aims to ensure any eligible voter seeking to access the polling booth is able to cast a ballot. There are four key provisions in this legislation including voting anywhere, online registration, same day registration and improved accommodations. Clerks gain the ability to designate polling places where anyone registered in the county may vote, regardless of the assigned polling place. Voters will now be able to register to vote on Election Day and cast their ballot, as well as register online the same day. Individuals with disabilities, deployed oversees and the elderly can now request absentee ballots for all elections instead of having to request every election.


The Nevada Legislature is laying the groundwork for a fair and accurate Census count and did so through three different pieces of legislation. AJR 6, championed by the late Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, is a resolution urging Congress to not include the citizenship question. $5 million of funding for Census outreach to underserved communities was appropriated through SB 504. Finally, AB 450 was signed into law, which is legislation that counts prison inmates in their home districts instead of prison districts for redistricting purposes.

4 Ways Nevada Progressives Made Our Economy Stronger

The Nevada Legislature took important steps toward bringing economic security to Nevada workers through several pieces of legislation, including equal pay for equal work, raising the minimum wage, earned sick days, and protecting the right to join together in union.

Equal Pay

After four years and three sessions, Senator Pat Spearman passed her Equal Pay for Equal Work legislation. Women finally have state protections if they are paid less than their male counterparts to seek justice.

Minimum Wage

After ten years without an increase in the state minimum wage, Assembly leadership sponsored legislation to begin a stepped increase to raise the minimum wage to $12 incrementally over the next five years. Additionally, the process to remove the health care provision tied to minimum wage in the Constitution was initiated.

Earned Sick Days

Previously, workers in Nevada did not legally have access to earned sick days, even if they worked full time. The new law allows for the accrual of 5 days off of earned sick time annually at employers with 50 employees or more.

Earned sick day advocates at the Nevada State Capitol

State Employee Collective Bargaining 

The bill protects the rights of state employees to join together in union to negotiate wages, vacation, sick leave, safety issues, hours and days of work, and more. Senator David Parks carried the bill for ten years before its passage this year.

Pic 2 photo cred AFSCME Local 4041
Photo from AFSCME Local 4041 at a collective bargaining rally