Criminal Justice Overhaul Passes First Legislative Hurdle

May 15, 2019

A bill aimed at making sweeping reforms to Nevada’s criminal justice system is making its way through the legislature. 

More than two months after its initial public hearing, lawmakers on the Assembly Judiciary Committee approved a heavily amended version of AB236.

At nearly 100 pages, the measure is meant to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system by reducing penalties for some crimes and increasing access to diversion programs for some drug offenses.

Committee Chair, Democrat Steve Yeager of Las Vegas, says the amended version of the bill is a compromise meant to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible.

“At the end of the day, I think we just have different policy perspectives," said Yeager. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for prosecutors, for law enforcement. They have a tough job out there every day, but in this legislative role, we’re tasked with making policy for the state, so I think what we have in front of us is good policy for the state. But between now and the next three weeks, will we ever get everyone on board? No.”

Under the amended version of the bill, a provision that would have dropped certain drug possession cases to a misdemeanor was removed, meaning that crime remains a felony.

However, despite that effort to find consensus, the measure was passed out of committee on a party-line vote. 

“There are people who are victims and victims' families that still live with the horrors of those crimes that were committed against their families,” Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner said. “I just feel like we need to balance public safety with advocating for justice reform.”

The measure itself was drafted using a set of recommendations from a report written by lawmakers working with the Boston-based Crime and Justice Institute. According to the report, the state could save as much as $640 million in prison costs over the next decade.