Lombardo assures street vendors police are on their side

In a bill signing ceremony Tuesday, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo praised legislation decriminalizing street vendors in classic conservative terms: “entrepreneurship” and reducing regulatory burdens for small businesses.

Street Vendor Nayeli Hernández, Latin Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Peter Guzman, LVMPD Sheriff Kevin McMahill, and state Sen. Fabian Doñate join Gov. Joe Lombardo to celebrate the passage of SB92, known as the Street Vendor Bill. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

by Jennifer Solis, Nevada Current
“Nevada is open for business,” Lombardo said, calling opening a business the cornerstone of “achieving the American Dream.”

“The ability to pursue that dream is by doing business and having a successful business without the reprisals of the government,” Lombardo, former sheriff for the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, continued.

Standing alongside LVMPD officers, Lombardo said he hopes the bill will reduce “fears that the Latin community experiences in the presence of people in uniform.”

Despite the LVMPD first opposing the bill out of concern it would prevent officers from issuing citations to street vendors on the resort corridor or those selling counterfeit merchandise, LVMPD Sheriff Kevin McMahill joined the signing ceremony.

“The police department is your partner and your friend,” Lombardo reassured street vendors present. Lombardo said the police department is committed to “embracing the community versus pushing back on the community.”

The bill, which passed with near unanimous bipartisan support, gives counties and cities the authority to establish a clear path for street vendors to operate legally by modernizing rules that make it too difficult, time-consuming or expensive to obtain valid permits.

Only Clark and Washoe County, the two counties in Nevada with populations of 100,000 or more, will be affected by the new ordinances.

But when those ordinances will actually be developed is still uncertain. The bill does not provide a timetable for when counties and cities must update their ordinances in compliance with the new law, leaving street vendors to wait for direction.

While the bill was formally approved by Lombardo in early June, the mandated task force charged with standardizing regulations for sidewalk vending and developing enforcement for vendors has yet to be established.

“It hasn’t started yet,” said Democratic Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, who is responsible for appointing members of the task force.

The task force — which will be called the Task Force on Safe Sidewalk Vending and made up of nine members — will include a health district representative, a government employee responsible for business licensing, a gaming or restaurant representative, a representative from law enforcement, and four members who are sidewalk vendors or representatives of that community.

For now, the bill prevents the complete prohibition of sidewalk vendors or criminal penalties for sidewalk vending in a residential area, effectively decriminalizing street food vendors.

During the ceremonial signing of the bill, Lombardo and Aguilar joined Make the Road Nevada, the Nevada Latino Legislative Caucus, and the Latin Chamber of Commerce to celebrate its passage, while acknowledging the policy development itself has “a long way to go.”

“We don’t have regulations that we’re ready to put forward now, because we need to hear from the business community, we need to hear directly from the vendors,” Aguilar said. “We need to hear from law enforcement, we need to hear from the health department about what we need to do to protect this industry.”

State ordinances for the operation of food establishments in Nevada are designed with larger operations such as restaurants or food trucks in mind. Equipment required by the narrow ordinances is often too expensive for a small operator, including three-compartment sinks and stainless steel fixtures.

“They’re investing significant portions of their savings, if not their entire life savings, into this dream, to build for their families to build for their future, and to be unable to obtain a business license and operate under the protections other businesses have is unacceptable,” said Aguilar.

Street vendors have grown distrustful of local officials after having their equipment and merchandise confiscated by health departments that do not offer a clear path to operate legally. Operating across multiple jurisdictions with different health codes has also caused confusion for street vendors.

Nayeli Hernández, a street vendor in Las Vegas, described feeling immense joy when she learned the street vending bill was signed into law. In the 17 years since migrating to the U.S, Hernández said her family has faced hardships as street vendors operating without regulatory support or clarity, adding that because of the bill, “new opportunities are opening up for us in our community.”

“I want to tell all immigrant families that this signifies our strength as a community. This is just one step. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to advocate for the issues that affect us. But this celebration shows us that yes, we can,” Hernández said in her native Spanish.

[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the name of the task force.]

JENIFFER SOLIS, Nevada Current

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.