I appreciate the unique challenges that are facing the residents in Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties. Economic development, access to health care and educational opportunities is just a few of the vital areas in which we need to focus our attention. I am committed to doing everything I can to help meet these challenges and improve the quality of life for everyone throughout Southern Nevada.
In 2004, I was proud to join with Senator Ensign and Nevada’s entire congressional delegation to introduce and pass the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act of 2004.
This bill represented a Nevada solution to a number of tough land and water challenges and authorized land sales and designated utility corridors to spur economic growth and expand the tax base in Lincoln County. The legislation also provided funding for the development and implementation of a multispecies habitat conservation plan, protection of sensitive archaeological sites, designates a back country off-highway vehicle trail, and resolved wilderness study area issues. This measure built upon the successes of the Lincoln County Land Act, which made thousands of acres of land available for business and residential development in the Mesquite area.
I am also pleased that I was able to help pass the Small Business Drought Relief Act. This legislation allowed small businesses access to low-interest loans for business-related purposes, including paying their bills and making payroll. This was especially important for businesses like fish and tackle shops, rafting businesses, restaurants, motels, camp grounds, marinas and gas stations that all depend, at least in part, on water and water sources, such as lakes and rivers.
I have also been a leading advocate of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which helps ensure that our local governments are fairly compensated for losses to their tax base that result from the presence of federal land in their communities. This program assists local governments in providing critical services to their citizens and gives them the resources to invest in their economic future. Last year, I helped secure nearly $82,000 for Esmeralda County, $407,000 for Lincoln County, and $1.62 million for Nye County.
In February 2005, I introduced legislation (S. 339) to reaffirm each state’s right to regulate hunting and fishing. I introduced this bill because a court ruling attempted to undermine the traditional role that states have in regulating its hunting and fishing laws. I respect the authority of states to enact laws to protect their legitimate interests in conserving fish and game, as well as providing opportunities for in-state and out-of-state residents to hunt and fish. This legislation was signed into law in May, and it will help ensure that Nevada sportsmen continue to enjoy the sporting opportunities that our state offers.
Improving Health Care
I want to make better health care available to every Nevadan by cutting costs, improving quality, and expanding access. Discussed below are just a few examples of my recent efforts to improve health care in southern Nevada.
There are 7,000 uninsured people in Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties, greatly undermining their access to health care services and potentially endangering their economic future. I am determined to pass legislation to cover all children as a first step to ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health care coverage.
Many small businesses, which employ 50 percent of Nevada's workers, are especially struggling to provide health insurance to their employees. I am committed to finding solutions that will work for small employers and their employees, while maintaining important consumer protections. A bill I cosponsored in 2006, the Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act (S. 2510), will make that happen by offering the same kind of coverage options Members of Congress enjoy.
I have consistently supported federal programs that play a critical role in sustaining and improving the fragile health care infrastructure common in Nevada's rural communities. I fought against the recent federal budget cuts for vital programs like the Title VII Health Professions Program and Rural Outreach Grants, and I will keep fighting for their funding in the future. I am also committed to supporting the programs that have real impact on the health and quality of life of everyone in southern Nevada, such as the state's Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. I am especially proud of my long and strong record of securing specific funding to benefit southern Nevada, including the $500,000 I recently directed to Nevada Rural Hospital Partners' telemedicine program and federal dollars for a new ambulance in Nye County.
Over 6,000 residents in Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties now get their prescription coverage from Medicare. I had long supported adding drug coverage to Medicare, so that our seniors can access the affordable medicines they need, but I have been greatly concerned about the deeply flawed Medicare legislation (Public Law 108-173) that created the new Part D benefit being implemented now. Throughout the first enrollment period and still today, I continue to hear from beneficiaries who are forced to deal with an unnecessarily complicated program that was written for the powerful special interests -- at the expense of ordinary citizens. That is why I am fighting to enact legislation that would fix the implementation problems, phase out gimmicks like the "donut hole" coverage gap, clean out the Medicare law's billion dollar giveaways to special interests, and allow Medicare to use its massive bargaining power to negotiate bulk discounts on prescription drugs.
As another example, I have been fighting to improve Nevadans' cancer care. I helped write the law that made Lincoln County residents eligible for up to $75,000 in compensation for developing cancer from fallout from the Nevada Test Site. Lincoln County residents had been unfairly excluded from the original 1990 law. There is also a great need for a leading edge cancer center conducting research and providing treatment for Nevadans so they do not have to travel far away for care. That is why I have secured millions of dollars in federal funding to improve access to cancer care in our state.
Fairness for Nevada Taxpayers
Since 1986, residents in states like Nevada have been penalized by virtue of Nevada’s lack of a state income tax. Last year, this discrimination was rectified with passage of the Jobs Creation Act of 2004 which allowed residents of states with no income tax to deduct the state sales taxes they pay. That relief - a matter of fairness, really - expires at the end of this year. That's why I cosponsored legislation (S. 27) that extends the state sales tax deduction permanently.
Expanding Educational Opportunities
As someone whose life was transformed by education, I am strongly committed to providing a high quality education to all of our children. I understand the unique educational challenges facing Nevada’s rural communities. During a meeting earlier this year with school superintendents from around the state, I heard that rural counties desperately need new school buses so I introduced a bill that will pay 75 percent of the cost of new buses for rural school systems. I also have been working hard to expand computer access for rural students. Students increasingly need computer skills to compete for jobs, but rural schools often do not have access to high technology. I was glad to help secure more than $111,000 in funding to supply laptop computers to Dyer Elementary School. These computers are available for students to use at school and at home and will ensure that these Esmeralda County students have the technological skills to succeed in our increasingly technologically-based economy.
The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is never going to open. That is why I am working on real long-term solutions to our nation’s 60,000 tons of nuclear waste. My highest priority is to ensure the health and safety of Nevadans, and this includes keeping the most toxic substance known to man out of our state and off our roads.
I have successfully fought against the proposal to store nuclear waste in Nevada for over two decades because it threatened the health and safety of Nevadans and people across our nation. The Department of Energy has used science that is incomplete, unsound, and riddled with politics to sell this dead-end proposal, and Nevadans are not convinced. Yucca Mountain, which is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is simply not a secure site to store nuclear waste.
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