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Nevada bill would decriminalize minor traffic violations

Updated April 4, 2019 - 3:32 pm

Get caught in California or Utah with a broken taillight or driving a little too fast, and you’ll be hit with a fine of a couple hundred dollars.

In Nevada, those tickets might land you in jail.

But that would change under a bill considered by lawmakers in the Nevada Legislature on Thursday.

Assembly Bill 411 would overhaul Nevada’s traffic laws by taking jail time off the table for a slew of common minor violations — speeding and broken taillights — and obscure ones, such as not moving to the right when five or more vehicles are behind you on a highway.

It would reclassify those violations as civil infractions with fines for most of up to $250 as opposed to criminal misdemeanors, which they currently are under state law, that carry possible jail time and fines of up to $1,000.

Major violations such as drag racing, reckless driving and DUIs would still be considered criminal under the bill.

“It’s time to do what is right,” Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, said while presenting the bill to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “At the end of the day we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘Do we want to be incarcerating our Nevada citizens because of minor traffic infractions?’”

The idea for the bill came from an interim legislative committee chaired by Yeager that analyzed how the state’s traffic violations are treated.

Every state that borders Nevada treats most minor traffic violations as civil violations punishable by a fine. But Nevada considers all violations criminal misdemeanors, meaning you could be sent to jail for failing to appear in court or for not paying on time.

“We’re not breaking new ground, and in fact we’re behind the curve here,” Yeager said.

Special Assistant Attorney General Kyle George noted that the Nevada attorney general’s office supports the bill, calling it “an important tool to what is a larger effort towards criminal justice reform.”

Several local governments and law enforcement agencies, including the Henderson, Las Vegas and Metropolitan police departments, opposed the bill, arguing that its implementation date — Oct. 1 — would be impossible to meet. They also expressed concern about changes to the way tickets would be handled in courts.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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