27 April 2023
Ahead of a floor vote on a measure aimed at closing loopholes in a law prohibiting “sundown sirens,” bill sponsor Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas) stood on the Senate floor to read an email.
“Too bad they abandoned the sirens to make people like you leave town,” Harris, who is Black, read from the email she received in April. “I hope Nevadans soon realize that your kind should never be in charge of anything in this country.”
Harris said that email was just more evidence that the sirens historically used by small towns to warn people of color to leave town by a specific time are far from innocuous relics.
The bill, SB391, would ensure towns only use sirens for emergencies and comes in response to the city of Minden continuing to sound a siren, even though lawmakers passed a prohibition of sundown sirens during the 2021 legislative session.
During a hearing of the measure in early April, the city said the siren honors first responders, though Washoe tribal members said it still has racist connotations.
Though towns historically used sirens as a signal for people of color to leave the town limits before nightfall or suffer bodily harm, Sen. Robin Titus (R-Wellington) said the sirens are now used for public safety and should not be banned.
Sen. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) added that while he is sympathetic to past injustices, communities need to work together to move forward.
“If we’re going to constantly bring up past issues, then I think we’re never going to be able to come together and have some level of harmony in our communities,” Hansen said, adding that the Legislature should “not punish communities that had nothing to do with this at all.”
Harris responded to the opposition by saying, “It is incumbent upon us to put these types of things in the history books. As much as we would all like to think that the siren no longer has this meaning, I’ve got a couple more emails to read you.”
Despite objections from Hansen and Titus, four Republicans joined Democrats in support of the measure: Sens. Lisa Kranser (R-Reno), Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno), Carrie Buck (R-Henderson) and Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas).
Legislative staff had to open an overflow room to accommodate all the public comments during the bill’s hearing in April, Krasner said during her floor remarks. She described how Native Americans testified one after another that the sirens are offensive to them, their parents and grandparents.
“It’s a stinging reminder every single day of what they went through,” Krasner said. “They testified how that if they weren’t home at dark because of the siren, they were beaten, the women were raped, that people would disappear … they talked about the psychological impact of hearing the siren every single day.”
The bill passed out of the Senate with a vote of 17-4.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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