Nevada legislative panel: Change minor traffic violations to civil penalties
August 27, 2018
A legislative committee, on a split vote, approved changing minor traffic violations from a criminal offense to a civil procedure after hearing complaints the present system results in loss of jobs, separation of families and, in some cases, deportation.
The committee decided Friday to draft four bills to be presented to the 2019 Legislature including recommendations to allow the reduction of a civil fine to be reduced if an early payment is made and to allow the judge to reduce the fine for low-income citizens.
Three of the four bills would make changes to the criminal procedures if the proposed civil system is not approved.
The committee, headed by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, heard stories from more than 20 Southern Nevada residents that the present system penalizes the poor. If they are unable to pay the fines, they end up in jail and may lose their employment, separated from their family and aliens are faced with deportation.
One Las Vegas woman testified she was put in jail and was prevented from breast feeding her newborn. Another testified her parents are afraid to drive because of the possibility of ending up in jail.
The meeting of the Committee to Study The Advisability And Feasibility Of Treating Certain Traffic And Related Violations As Civil Infractions was held in Las Vegas but video conferenced to Carson City. The vote was 4-2 with the majority being Las Vegas Democrats. The two Republicans – Sen. Don Gustavson of Sparks and Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko – voted against the preparation of the four bills.
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Ellison said there were not the problems in rural Nevada that occurred in Las Vegas.
Yeager stressed this was just the beginning of the process and the bills will be debated in the Legislature. He said the switch to a civil system may not be approved in this upcoming session and may be considered down the line.
The committee vote "does not ensure passage," said Yeager adding that the committee members were not committed to support the proposed bill during the session.
The switch to a civil system for such things as speeding would carry the recommendation that a law enforcement officer would not have the discretion to arrest a person for a minor violation.
This proposed switch would not affect major traffic violations such as drunk driving.
Under the proposed legislation, failure to pay the civil penalty in the allotted time could result in the attachment or garnishment of a defendant's wages or property and suspension of the driver's license.
This was the last meeting of the committee but Yeager said he is willing to meet with judges and others to consider possible changes to the plan.