Sparks fly between lawmakers during discussion on broad housing protection measure

(Tabitha Mueller | Nevada Independent) – Every year, former prisoners participate in state-sponsored reentry programs and receive aid to help them transition into life outside of incarceration, but that help is all for naught if they cannot find housing, Sen.  (D-Las Vegas) said.

Her comments came Thursday during a heated Assembly Government Affairs Committee hearing of her bill, SB254, a wide-ranging measure aimed at strengthening anti-discrimination housing protections for formerly incarcerated individuals.

“There is a right to housing,” Neal said. “It is in the best interest of the state to engage in this public policy and to take state action in regards to fairness and fundamental access to the ability to have a roof over your head.”

The proposed legislation has attracted many opponents, including Assemblywoman  (R-Mesquite), who pushed back against Neal’s arguments and said homeowners and landlords have property rights that the government must protect.

“There are cases where we should protect people’s right to housing. But these people made a choice to break the law,” Black said. “And I believe that we don’t have a place to tell a private property owner who they can and can’t rent to, whether we have done that historically or we haven’t.”

Neal countered, saying that the bill does not infringe on property rights and highlighted past cases of redlining and other examples of denied housing for people based on their skin color.

“You’re telling me, as we move into 2021 … that ex-felons, who have served their time, who we’re putting government dollars into, they are the class of individuals we have no right to touch, they have no rights in this society,” Neal said. “If that is the case, then keep them in prison. Because I don’t understand why we’re letting them out if we really feel that they have no value, and they are not worthy of a roof over their heads. That is the craziest thing to me.”

Black responded that there had to be a balance.

“I do not want people to be relegated to living in a dark hole somewhere,” Black said. “What I’m saying is I don’t want it to be at the expense of people’s property rights.”

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