Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
January 26, 2024
State lawmakers Thursday questioned the “really late” rollout by the governor’s Office of New Americans on implementing legislation passed last year to help state agencies update documents and services in languages other than English.
Lawmakers on the Joint Interim Standing Committee on Government Affairs heard updates on bills passed last year, including one expanding duties of the Office of New Americans and another allocating $25 million for state agencies to set up “language access plans.”
Assembly Bill 266, sponsored by Las Vegas Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who also chairs the interim committee, expanded the duties of the Office of New Americans including hiring a coordinator to work with counties on implementing individual language access plans and receive and investigate complaints related to language access.
“I spoke to local governments and they are starting to do the work and figure out what they need to do, but the rollout is really late,” Torres said. “The funding for the language access coordinator was made available on Oct. 1 but it seems to me it looks like it’s not until February that we will have a language access coordinator starting that work.”
The language access coordinator won’t start until Feb. 5, confirmed Iris Ramos Jones, who was appointed as the office’s director by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo in September.
Ramos Jones said the hiring process was much slower than she expected, saying “things take longer in the public sector than in the private sector.”
“What I can guarantee you is that we are going to deliver results,” she said.
The office was created in 2019 to provide resources for immigrants and refugees.
Under the new legislation, the office must also train state agencies and counties on recruiting and retaining interpreters, create a public roster of interpreters and prepare a report on any recommendations to the legislature by September.
The law also requires Clark and Washoe counties and cities within those counties to issue public notices in additional language.
AB 266 wasn’t the only bill that has been slow to be implemented.
Assembly Bill 480 allocated $25 million to allow state agencies to find language accessibility options.
“We have stressed the need for language access funding consistently,” Torres said. “Part of the pushback from state agencies has consistently been that there is a lack of funds.”
The bill limited the funds to state agencies, excluding local governments from applying. If the money isn’t spent by June 2025, it reverts back to the general fund.
Jered McDonald, the chief principal policy analyst with the Legislative Council Bureau, said as of Dec. 13 not one state agency has requested money.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife, he added, is expected to request around $200,000 at the upcoming Interim Finance Meeting on Feb. 8 to fund its language access plan.
“What is ONA doing to maximize information to state agencies and maximize support so they know to apply for these grants?” Torres asked Ramos Jones. “Otherwise it’s a waste of $25 million.”
The office, Ramos Jones said, sent agencies an overview of the program funding in October.
“There is nothing that impedes the office from fulfilling the goals of AB 480 and making sure that agencies are doing the outreach right now,” Torres said. “I want to stress the importance that these agencies are applying for this pot of money because there is money available.”
Lawmakers also questioned the work the office is doing to reach out to undocumented immigrants.
Democratic Assemblyman Max Carter of Las Vegas referenced Lombardo’s previous comments on immigration saying when he was sheriff at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department he “bragged about deporting 10,000 immigrants. He bragged about finding loopholes.”
“My main thing is asking are you given the power and autonomy to do the job properly,” Carter said. “Are you being given the freedom to truly do what the intent was and develop good communication with the immigrant community?”
Ramos Jones said she had been able to fulfill the duties of the office and added that she was committed to reaching out to diverse communities to ensure they are aware of the office’s resources and programs.
“Regarding our governor,” she added, “please refer to him directly.”
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