By Humberto Sanchez
The Nevada Independent 

The U.S. House approved a package worth more than $280 billion to extend health care coverage to about 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits, used mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan to get rid of trash and waste. 

The Senate passed a more limited package last month as part of a threepart strategy to tackle the issue. The two chambers will need to work out differences between the two bills to send a single measure to President Joe Biden, who called for the legislation in his Tuesday State of the Union speech. 

Nevada is home to more than 200,000 veterans, most of whom fought in the Vietnam War and the wars in the Middle East. The bill would also require the treatment of hypertension related to contact with Agent Orange, an herbicide defoliant used as a weapon during the Vietnam War. It also expands exposure to Agent Orange to veterans who served in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. 

Action on the veterans bill came as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) called for a meeting between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Culinary Union to discuss what a fair tip allocation rate would be for tipped workers in Nevada. The allocation rate essentially determines the percentage of tips reported to the IRS by tipped employees and their employers. 

“Tip compliance is supposed to be a voluntary agreement for employee tip reporting that is entered into by an employer, employees, and the IRS,” said Bethany Khan, spokeswoman for the Culinary Union. “The agreement defines rates for all gaming employees receiving tips and gratuities on a site by site basis. In Nevada, tip allocation rates vary by position, shift, venue type, and other factors.” 

The IRS lowered the rate during the pandemic, but raised the rate at the beginning of the year and in some cases the rate is higher than it was in 2019. But with the hospitality industry slowly recovering, hours have been tough to come by for workers. And the higher rate also comes as other costs are soaring, like housing.

Their letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, dated Wednesday, follows a release from then-Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline who complained in January that the new rate was unfairly high for hospitality workers. 

“The tip allocation rate affects tens of thousands of workers in Nevada and around the country, and they deserve a seat at the table at a time when they face higher rental and housing costs while hoping to work enough hours to make ends meet,” the letter said. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said in a brief interview that passing a bill known as Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, or the CROWN Act, which would protect against discrimination toward hairstyles such as Afros and dreadlocks, should be a “no-brainer.” 

“It’s a no-brainer for us to have a federal standard on women in the workplace, whether it’s military or any other role, being able to wear their natural hair,” Horsford said. “I mean, come on, we’re living in 2022. People should be able to be who they are, their authentic self, and do their job.” 

The House considered the bill under an expedited process reserved for noncontroversial measures and needed two-thirds of those voting to pass. But the legislation failed 235 to 188. Most Republicans, including Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), voted against the bill. Only 14 voted in favor. The bill could come up again under the regular process, requiring only a simple majority to pass. 

During debate on the bill, Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), argued that race-based discrimination, including against hair style and texture, is already illegal, making the measure is duplicative and unnecessary. 

House consideration of the measure comes as a campaign to pass the legislation at the state level has so far reached 14 states. Nevada was the 12th state to pass the measure led, in part, by State Sen. Dina Neal (DNorth Las Vegas) — the first Black woman elected to the Assembly. 

Horsford commended Neal and the Legislature for their work.