The governor has already signed legislation authorizing police officers in Nevada to wear body cameras.
But that legislation didn’t provide a way for local governments to actually pay for the cameras.
Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, told the Senate finance Committee on Wednesday his SB111 does that, allowing local officials to raise the sales tax by 1/8th of a cent to cover the cost of the cameras and related equipment.
Ford said no one in local government, the school districts or other agencies disagreed with the policy behind the bill.
“Most police agencies understand the need for this,” he said. “Let’s be clear, body cameras work,” he said. “They save lives and they save jobs.”
Ford cited two examples. He said in Salt Lake City, body cameras helped figure out what happened when police killed someone and cleared the officers of wrongdoing. But in New Mexico, he said, body camera video showed a different story and resulted in murder charges against two Albuquerque officers.
SB111 was before Finance because of the potential costs to local governments. Over the next two years, those costs include more than $1.3 million for Las Vegas Metro, $424,300 for Washoe, $202,963 for Carson City, $186,000 for Douglas and $50,000 in Churchill. Lyon County said it would cost more than $500,000.
It would also cost to buy cameras for NHP troopers but that estimated $1 million a biennium would come from the Highway Fund.
While it authorizes county commissions across Nevada to approve the tax covering those costs, it mandates all agencies buy and use the cameras whether or not the commissioners in their jurisdiction vote for the tax.
“I have no faith that the counties are going to support a tax increase for this and if they don’t we’re going to have fewer police officers on the street,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.
He made that statement after lobbyists for several counties and the cities said without the tax hike, there would be law enforcement layoffs.
Jeff Fontaine of the Nevada Association of Counties said the mandate would force layoffs because it has a disproportionate cost to small counties. He described SB111 as an unfunded mandate.
“We don’t argue with the policy,” said Mary Walker representing Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties. “The problem we have in the rurals — at least Carson City, Douglas and Lyon — is that it costs a half million per county. If this goes through, they will have to lay off more people so it’s serious.”
She also said the problem of police abuse is “it’s not typically in rural counties where these problems reside.”
Wes Henderson of the Nevada League of Cities said it leaves municipalities in a bad spot because they would be dependent on the county commissions to enact the tax.
“We don’t have control over it.”
Ford, however, said he has tried every avenue to find funding and this is about the only thing available except state General Fund money that doesn’t exist.
“We know this is a problem and to be in denial and come up with testimony that we (rurals) don’t have issues between officers and citizens is a slap in the face,” he said. “It’s ducking the issues.”
Ford said the bill tries to address a real issue and “this is just people coming up with ways to kill the bill.”
“It’s the Armageddon approach: we’re going to lay off cops if you make us do this,” he said.
The committee took no action on the bill.