- Associated Press - Friday, June 12, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Gov. Brian Sandoval signed bills Friday aimed at helping veterans, including one that provides $14 million to build a Northern Nevada Veterans Home, in what he said is an effort to make Nevada the most military- and veteran-friendly state in the nation.

Sandoval held a signing ceremony at the American Legion Post in Reno on Friday, the last day he had to approve or veto bills passed during the legislative session that ended last week. The Republican governor signed 549 bills into law after the session, but he told attendees he had saved signing the best bill for last.

“What really brought me to this was a life-changing experience - to be able to go to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and meet the people who served,” Sandoval said, referring to trips he took last fall and in 2011. “I really feel we owe a debt of gratitude that we can never repay.”

The Republican governor approved AB491, which provides funding for a wide range of state capital improvement projects, including the money for a 96-bed veterans’ nursing home in Reno to complement one in southern Nevada. The federal government is expected to kick in a grant of about $28 million to complete the project, and officials say construction could be finished as early as late 2016.

The $14 million state investment, which was out of reach a few years ago during the economic downturn, “would not have happened unless the governor hadn’t said repeatedly, ‘We will not let this go,’ ” said Caleb Cage, Sandoval’s director of military and veterans policy.

Sandoval also signed AB71, which gives businesses a break on their payroll taxes when they hire an unemployed veteran and allows survivors of fallen Nevada National Guard members a break on sales taxes. He approved AB89, which allows private sector employers to give a preference to hiring veterans and their spouses.

He signed AB241, which creates a Women Veterans Advisory Committee to address the unique needs of female veterans, and AB482, which promotes research on how to improve outcomes for veterans.

Cage said committees that convened in 2014 developed about 50 recommendations for improving veteran services in Nevada, and almost all of them came to pass during the 2015 legislative session. By contrast, the veteran community put forth about eight recommendations in the 2013 session.

“In my almost eight years of working for the veteran community in the state of Nevada,” Cage said, “this has been by far the most we’ve been able to effect change.”

Other measures Sandoval approved in his final batch of bill signings Thursday and Friday included:

- SB503, which requires schools with a high percentage of low-income students to offer breakfast after the school day begins. It also provides $2 million in startup grants for schools to launch the program.

- AB394, which calls for studying the potential breakup of the Clark County School District. Any plan to break up the district must be approved by the legislative commission, which is made up of Nevada lawmakers.

- AB448, which calls for the six lowest-performing school districts in the state to eventually convert into charter schools under the jurisdiction of a new “Achievement School District.”

- AB483, which requires that school districts set aside money to give performance-based bonuses to the best teachers and administrators.

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