Driver-related bills approved, rejected

CARSON CITY -- Nevada motorists probably are safe for another two years from citations issued by traffic cameras, but they soon could find themselves pulled over and cited for not wearing seat belts as a result of votes Tuesday in the Legislature.

On a day that required many Senate bills to get voted out to the Assembly, and for Assembly measures to make their way to the Senate, the traffic camera measure, Senate Bill 61, was one of the few bills that went down to defeat.

The measure would have allowed local governments to implement a pilot program of using traffic cameras to catch red-light runners. If the results of the test project showed a reduction in collisions, the Legislature would have then been able to authorize their use.

But the measure drew a slew of opponents, including Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who said she would rather have her daughter get a ticket for running a red light than get smashed up in a rear-end collision because she stopped on a yellow signal.

The citations would have amounted to the lowest parking fine in the jurisdiction, would have been mailed weeks later and would not have changed driver behavior, she said.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, who spoke in favor of the measure, said traffic cameras have reduced collisions in other jurisdictions.

Provisions were added to the bill to protect drivers, including the ability to contest a citation if the driver of the vehicle was someone other than the registered owner, he said. Any company operating the cameras could not earn revenue based on the number of citations issued, Nolan said.

Law enforcement groups backed the measure, he said.

"We do not have enough police anymore to sit at an intersection to watch for people who intentionally run red lights," Nolan said. "It is not uncommon to have very serious accidents as a result of this activity."

But the bill died with six votes in favor and 15 against.

Nolan, who saw the primary seat belt law go down to defeat Monday on a vote of eight in favor and 13 against, got lucky on Tuesday when the measure was reconsidered.

Nolan, who voted against his own measure on Monday to give him the chance to have it re-voted on Tuesday, won over Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, to get an 11-10 vote for Senate Bill 42.

It would allow police to pull over a driver for not wearing a seat belt and issue a ticket for not more than $25. The ticket would not count as a moving violation or toward points for the suspension of a license.

Failure to buckle up is currently a secondary offense in Nevada, meaning police cannot stop a driver for failure to wear a belt. If stopped for another reason under current law, a driver can be cited for not wearing a seat belt.

The future of the bill, however, might not be bright in the Assembly. Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the Assembly has looked at primary seat belt laws in the past and rejected them. Democrats hold a 27-15 advantage over Republicans in the Assembly.

But Assembly Minority Leader Garn Mabey, R-Las Vegas, said he will support a primary seat belt law.

"I don't know if it has a chance, but every day we find out about people who have died because they didn't wear a seat belt," said Mabey, a doctor.

Only a few bills were approved Tuesday in the Assembly. The house had finished most of its business Monday during two long floor sessions.

The Assembly completed its business on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., long before the 6:55 p.m. adjournment in the Senate. That might have been because the Assembly conducted a floor voting session Friday, while the Senate did not.

Mabey said he is concerned about legislation that has not been heard this session.

"We have not addressed the unfunded liability in this house," he said, referring to the unfunded cost of future retirement benefits for state workers. "We haven't talked about the PERS system, retirement issues and health care benefits. We have an $8 billion to $10 billion debt. If I were speaker, we would be addressing those issues."


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