school districts for the purpose of teaching English to students who are
deficient in the language.
Ramirez said the passage of this bill and the driver authorization card bill prove the legislative rhetoric has changed this year.
"There was a complete change in direction in terms of how we talk about Latinos as part of our communities," he said.
The legislative successes are part of the offensive strategy the Hispanic caucus developed after playing defense last legislative session against a bill that would have mirrored a controversial Arizona law that critics say encourages racial profiling.
Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas, helped develop that strategy as chairwoman of the legislative Hispanic caucus.
She said the Hispanic caucus had a strategic goal to get people involved in the legislative process by working the past two years to educate the community, planning bills they'd like to pass and working with Republicans to gain support.
"This session, we took a giant leap forward," she said. "It went from not being able to crawl to being able to stand up and run."
She echoed Denis when she said most people think that Hispanic issues are limited to immigration, but she said that people living in the communities and neighborhoods they represent bring to their attention a wide variety of issues, including economic development, education and judicial matters.
The Hispanic caucus also includes legislators who aren't Hispanic -- Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, and Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas -- but who represent districts with large Hispanic populations.
The Legislature has a variety of caucuses that meet from time to time to coordinate a legislative agenda. The Washoe County and Clark County legislators met often this year, as did the rural caucus. In the past, the Legislature has also hosted a cowboy caucus that addressed issues related to rural ranching communities.
In the same way, Denis said that he hopes the Hispanic caucus can help people understand that the Hispanic community cares about more than immigration.
"They are starting to see that Latinos aren't any different than anyone else," Denis said. "They want good jobs. They want a good education for their children. They don't want a handout. They just want to be able to live their lives, take care of their families."
Along with Neal, Segerblom, Denis and Bustamante Adams, the Hispanic caucus includes Sen. Ruben Kihuen; Assemblywomen Lucy Flores, Olivia Diaz and Teresa Benitez-Thompson; and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, all Democrats from Las Vegas, with the exception of Benitez-Thompson, who is from Reno.
Neither the Senate nor the Assembly includes Hispanic legislators affiliated with the Republican Party.
Most of the legislators in the Hispanic caucus were elected in 2011, and legislative observers marked the arrival of four Hispanic women in the Assembly as a sign of the state's changing population.
"This change is more apparent in the Legislature during the past several sessions," said Lorne Malkiewich, former director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau and current lobbyist with R&R Partners. "It's been particularly visible during the past two sessions."
But visibility and strategy alone did not change the tone of the conversation in the Statehouse, Ramirez said.
He said it's no secret that both the state's Republican governor and its Republican legislators want to win more Hispanic votes in 2014, so they've quieted what he called the sometimes "xenophobic" rhetoric of certain Republicans in elected office.
"If any member of the Republican caucus is pushing aggressively anti-Latino stuff, it'll taint the whole caucus," he said.
All legislators in the state Assembly are up for re-election in 2014, as is the governor.
Political editor Anjeanette Damon contributed to this story.
(c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)
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