Las Vegas Sun

July 22, 2019

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Omnibus criminal reform bill in Nevada set for vote Thursday

CARSON CITY — A leading Nevada Democrat said amendments to a sweeping criminal justice reform bill will lower the projected cost savings for the state.

Assemblyman Steve Yeager revealed dozens of proposed changes to the omnibus reform bill and said Tuesday he expects the wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill to face its first legislative hurdle on Thursday when it comes up for a vote in his committee.

The original bill reflected reform recommendations laid out in a January legislative report. That report states the recommendations would cut 89% of the projected expansion in the state's prison population and save Nevada $640 million over the next decade.

Yeager said the savings figure will be lowered because some changes to the bill "directly affect the prison population."

"In my mind, it's not going to be reduced substantially enough to make this not worthwhile," he said.

Some of the proposed amendments rollback efforts in the original bill to lessen jail time for certain crimes, such as penalties for theft and for ex-felons in possession of a weapon.

For example, the monetary threshold for a felony theft charge under the amended bill is lowered from $2,000 to $1,200.

The changes to the bill come about two months after lawmakers on an Assembly committee heard a wide-ranging debate on the original legislation, which pitted prosecutors against public defenders.

Prosecutors and law enforcement acknowledged the need for some reforms, but raised concerns it would hurt public safety. Supporters of the original measure argued it would curb the state's expanding prison population.

Growth in Nevada's prison population is expected to cost the state an extra $770 million over the next decade, according to the January legislative report. It also said the state's imprisonment rate is 15% higher than the national average.

The amended bill comes after lawmakers met with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, public defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union and representative from the state's attorney general office, Yeager said.

"We sort of invited everyone and their brother who had concerns about any of this, to kind of come in and tell us what those concerns were," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro did not participate in that process, he said. Yeager said he wanted to do as much of the "heavy lifting" on the bill before handing it off to the state Senate.

"I'm no more worried about this bill than I am about any of my other bills," he said.