A New Legislator Sets Her Focus on Education




After a long day of taking care of business as an assemblywoman, 42-year-old Lesley Cohen sometimes likes to pull out her yoga band and stretch her back in her office. Yoga is one of Cohen’s favorite pastimes — it relaxes her and gives her comfort — though she has less time to commit to it, now that she’s arrived in Carson City.

Cohen was appointed to her seat by the Clark County Commission in Dec. 2012 to replace former Assemblywoman April Mastroluca. Prior to that, Cohen says she’d never given thought to pursuing a significant position within the Nevada Legislature.

“Because I was appointed, I didn’t come in here with a list of goals,” Cohen says. “It’s more [like] I’m going to go in and be a good legislator. I want to be a part of the process and be active on the committees.”

As the 2013 legislative session gets underway, the new assemblywoman says she still has a lot to learn, but is determined to listen to the ideas and concerns of the people of District 29.

In Henderson, NV, Cohen is an attorney practicing family law. She took a leave of absence to tackle the 120-day legislative session.

“I’m still trying to play catch up and meet the constituents and really get to know them, figure out what their biggest concerns are,” Cohen says. “It’s great with the Internet and e-mail; I’m finding out what they want, and they’re finding a way to get a hold of me and letting me know things that they’re very passionate about.”

Born in New York City in 1970, Cohen and her family moved to Las Vegas in 1972 and has spent the majority of her life in Southern Nevada.

Cohen says she is a proud alumna of the University of Nevada, Reno. After graduating from UNR in 1993 with a Bachelor’s in Political Science, she continued her education at DePaul University’s College of Law in Chicago, Illinois where she graduated in 1996 with her Juris Doctorate.

Although Cohen is single with no children, she says her job as a lawyer is to help families move forward from their issues and settle family cases. She adds that her experiences in family law have assisted her as an assemblywoman, saying that she understands how law practices work and the concept has never been foreign to her.

“I’ve not only used the statutes every day, but I’ve also done research on legislative history,” Cohen says. “So I sat and I read through hundreds of pages of legislative history on different bills—I see how that goes and what the committee process is and that’s been very helpful.”

When she was appointed, Cohen said making the transition from a family law attorney to an assemblywoman was definitely astounding for her and her family. Cohen said her mother, sister and 92-year-old grandmother attended the first day of the Nevada Legislature on February 4, to watch her be sworn in.

“It’s not the concept of making a law, and what’s entailed in making a law isn’t completely foreign to me,” Cohen says. “So while I never thought of going into politics before, being involved in the legal community seemed like a good fit.”

One topic that Cohen says she’s looking forward to is education since it doesn’t receive enough attention from the state. She says education ties into everything — the economy, companies and employers, and even health care.

“I think education is important for every state,” Cohen says. “[However] I think for [Nevada] it’s particularly important because it’s not news to the state that we’ve got some problems in education. We need to get our hands around it and figure how to improve the education system and focus on what’s working for our kids and try new things to fix what isn’t working for kids.”

As for other common issues and concerns such as taxes and gun control, Cohen says she’s aware of the bills pertaining to these issues, and will focus on them more as they are introduced with more in-depth research.

“When they do come forward, I will take the care of it as each bill deserves that comes before us, consider both sides and continue to get more information,” Cohen says.

Cohen is involved with many associations, including the State Bar of Nevada Member Benefits and Services Committee. She volunteers for Clark County Legal Services, and serves as vice president for Greyhound Pet Adoption of Las Vegas, an organization that assists retired racing greyhounds. Cohen owns a greyhound of her own.

Despite having to play catch up with the legislature, Cohen says she feels gratified to be working with other lawmakers and the staff in the legislature.

“Everyone up here is so nice, and it seems like the staff goes out of their way to make the legislators comfortable because they know we’re doing really important work,” Cohen says.

Cohen said she’s still getting to know District 29 and important issues that are within the district’s concerns. Cohen said she’s receiving emails and phone calls from constituents. She recommends constituent services should be utilized more often, noting that it is often under used.

“They do wonderful work, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” Cohen says. “So I’m not hearing a lot of those issues, and I hope to get the word out so that people realize that’s a service there for them.”

Although Cohen is still getting settled into her new position, she has already signed two bills and is enjoying her stay in Carson City, which she said is a nice and refreshing place to be.

“I’m very excited,” Cohen says. “I’m looking forward to getting into the session where I feel like it’s just really starting to gear up right now.”

Cohen will be serving on three Assembly Committees — Judiciary; Education; Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining.