A motorist stopped for a future traffic violation such as speeding might pay the fine on the spot by credit card and continue on his or her way.
That was one of the suggestions made during Tuesday’s meeting of the legislative interim committee studying turning traffic tickets, now considered criminal violations, into civil infractions.
Assemblyman Steve Yeager, chairman of the committee, laid out a potential list of changes in the law to modernize and standardize practices.
Yeager, D-Las Vegas, said there are all different fees imposed in the counties and the 2019 Legislature might want to change that. But he emphasized the amount of fees and fines collected would be increased and not be decreased if the civil system was enacted.
Suggestions to be considered at the next meeting include whether the maximum jail time for minor offenses might be lowered from the present six months; the range of fines and how the fines should be collected.
Some serious infractions would remain criminal under the proposed changes. These would include DUI, reckless driving, vehicular manslaughter and driving without a license or insurance. Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, suggested the committee consider allowing a motorist to use a credit card to pay a fine when stopped for a minor violation.
Sen. Don Gustafson, R-Sparks, complained failure to stop at a stop sign isn’t being enforced. And he indicated that should be a serious offense,
Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, said one problem is a citation given to a motorist isn’t turned over to the court system for five days. The driver may want to pay the fine or request a hearing, but the judicial system doesn’t have the case. Yeager said that also happens in Clark County,
Another potential change is to allow the violator to pay a fine by e-mail or telephone rather than showing up in court. And a person who argues there are extenuating circumstances for the violation could submit a written statement to the court without an appearance. The judge could then modify the penalty after considering all the evidence.
Mason Simons, justice of the peace and municipal judge in Elko, testified the present system should remain the same. He said converting to a civil procedure could hamper law enforcement in searching a vehicle if there’s suspicion of a more serious violation, such as drugs.
“Law enforcement can be more effective,” he told the committee.
Other states have converted traffic violations to a civil penalty. Advocates said this allows law enforcement officers to spend more time going after serious offenders rather than spending time in court in contested minor offenses.
Ellison said changing the law will be a financial disaster for many rural counties that depend on part of these fees for court improvements and other programs.
The money now collected goes to a number of judicial and executive branch programs
The committee will meet later this summer to make its final recommendations and has authorization to submit five bills to the 2019 Legislature.