CARSON CITY — A cash bail reform bill is finally moving forward in the waning days of the Legislature, but some of the movement’s ardent supporters have all but bailed on the push.
The original omnibus bail reform bill sought to overhaul how bail worked in the state, including a requirement for judges to place the least restrictive bail conditions on those arrested before ordering cash bail. And if bail was ordered, it would have required a hearing within 48 hours.
That proposal was lauded by criminal justice reform advocates as a way to rebalance the scales of bail that disproportionately affects people of color and the poor.
But that bail reform push — which has been amended into Assembly Bill 125 — has been watered down to appease law enforcement, prosecutors and courts wary of such sweeping change, even as some of those groups, including the Clark County district attorney’s office, still oppose it.
And now, even some of those who helped lead the way early on in the session on the push to overhaul the bail system are less certain of their support for the bill going forward.
“Right now as the bill stands, AB125 is a patchwork sort of bill that was amended into something that’s not what we would consider meaningful bail reform,” said Holly Welborn, policy director for the ACLU of Nevada.
The bill has cleared the full Assembly and was heard Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. During that hearing, even those presenting the bill were cautious about how much it could accomplish at this point.
“I wouldn’t even call this bail reform. I call it a first step,” Clark County Public Defender John Piro, who helped present the bill, said during the hearing.
The amended bill now focuses on allowing people to be arrested, booked and released without a bail hearing for misdemeanor offenses deemed nonviolent.
Robert Langford, a criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas who previously ran unsuccessfully for Clark County district attorney last year, also supported the initial bail reform bill. But on Tuesday, he was on the other side, testifying in opposition.
Langford said Tuesday that for the most part, he supports the legislation, but he opposed the change that allows for people with money to request a different condition for release. Langford said he is worried that such language would allow those with money to ask for bail rather than other release conditions, which he called “unequivocally unconstitutional.”
“The constitution says that all people have to be treated equally,” Langford said. “And if you can come to court and say ‘I’m wealthy, I should be treated differently,’ then clearly that is unconstitutional.”
Some judges express continued concern that the bill’s language isn’t consistent and could tie the courts hands when it comes to considering bail.
Henderson Municipal Judge Sam Bateman told lawmakers Tuesday that the bill in its current form “gets to the point where it’s almost micromanaging the court in its decision.”
Trimming the bill’s language to add clarity and focus is something nearly all sides seem to agree on.
In the absence of a more substantial cash bail overhaul, Welborn said she is hoping the bill gets scaled down to focus on allowing those who are charged with misdemeanor offenses to be released without cash bail.
State Sen. Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, seemed onboard with allowing those accused of committing minor offenses who can’t afford bail being released on their own recognizance, saying the idea “seems reasonable.”
Welborn said, “If it’s going to be a step in the right direction, “let’s take a meaningful step.”