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Democrat says justice reform bill changes to lower savings

May 22, 2019

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A leading Nevada Democrat says projected savings from an amended criminal justice reform bill could be less than expected following negotiations with prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

Assemblyman Steve Yeager said changes to proposed legislation will still result in meaningful savings, about $550 million over the next decade. But that is $90 million less in savings than what was in the original legislation.

“I would hesitate to go any further (because) you’re really going to start cutting into the savings,” he said.

Yeager, who leads the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said the legislation is still expected to curb Nevada’s growing prison population, but to a lesser degree than in the original bill.

A January legislative report said Nevada’s imprisonment rate is 15% higher than the national average and the growth in the state’s prison population is estimated to cost Nevada about $770 million over a decade in capital expenditures and additional operating costs.

The amended version of the legislation pushes back on a proposal to lessen jail time for crimes such as theft and ex-felons in possession of a weapon. Yeager said cited changes to penalties on drug crimes and automobile burglary.

The original proposal aimed to ease the penalty for a first-time drug offense, classifying a possession charge as a misdemeanor in cases involving less than 14 grams of drugs. The amended version of the bill restores the penalty to a felony charge.

Prosecutors and law enforcement expressed concerns about drug penalty changes in the original bill, Yeager said. “Keeping minor possession as a felony, I believe, is out of step with the rest of the country and the science behind substance use disorder,” he said.

Yeager said he received the new projected savings figure from the Crime and Justice Institute, which works with local, state, and national criminal justice organizations on reform efforts.

The sprawling reform bill is aimed at reducing the state’s growing prison population.

John Piro with the Clark County public defender’s office said compromise is inevitable, but the measure still brings substantial reforms.

“Ninety million is nothing to scoff at, right? But it’s still a great reform bill that will still hopefully provide added services to our state,” he said.

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