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IN RESPONSE: A word on criminal justice reform, crime and the legislative process

I am disappointed about the misinformation spreading about Nevada’s landmark criminal justice reform bill, Assembly Bill 236, which the Legislature passed and Gov. Steve Sisolak signed in 2019. There is no evidence the bill has resulted in increased crime in Nevada. Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks was the latest to spew such nonsense (“Sisolak gutted penalties for criminals. Now crime is soaring,” Aug. 17).

As the principal sponsor of this bill, I invested hundreds of hours in crafting it and moving it along. Let me offer this condensed history of how the bill came to be, as no bill in the history of the state has gone through a longer or more thorough vetting process.

Democrats and Republicans might not agree on much, but in Nevada in 2018, they agreed that the state’s prison budget was increasing at an unsustainable rate without any improved public safety outcomes to show for it. With assistance from the Trump administration, the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice — comprised of legislators, judges, law enforcement, district attorneys and other criminal justice system partners — spent months formulating ways to make the state’s criminal justice system more effective. The commission spent nearly 20 hours in more than nine meetings considering data and reforms that led to what would become AB236. The State Bar of Nevada would later award the commission its medal of justice for its effort.

The real work began with the legislative session — meeting with those in opposition to the bill to seek common ground. I met with the Metropolitan Police Department lobbyists because the agency was opposed to the initial version of the bill.

Gov. Sisolak advised me that he would not sign the bill if Metro continued to oppose it. Thus, the path forward became clear. I distinctly recall a telephone call with Sheriff Joe Lombardo in which I asked him what it would take for Metro to shift from opposition to neutral. He asked for a few changes, including delaying implementation of the bill, all of which I agreed to prior to the vote in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on May 14, 2019, where I noted Metro’s neutrality on the record. The entire Assembly voted on the amended bill two weeks later.

Prior to that vote, several conservative groups sent a letter addressed to Minority Leader Jim Wheeler and all the members of the Assembly, urging support of AB236. The signatories of the letter included the American Conservative Union, FreedomWorks, R Street Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Right on Crime and the Faith &Freedom Coalition.

That letter noted that by “adopting the recommendations of the ACAJ, the Legislature can follow the lead of President Trump and conservative states across the country, getting Nevada’s justice system back on a sustainable track … by responsibly reducing the prison population while protecting public safety.”

When the Senate Judiciary Committee heard AB236 just five days before the session ended, Metro testified neutral on the bill and the following traditionally conservative groups testified in support: the Vegas and Reno/Sparks chambers of commerce, Americans for Prosperity, the Retail Association of Nevada and the Nevada Trucking Association. The Senate approved the bill a few days later on a bipartisan 19-2 vote.

I am proud of Assembly Bill 236 because it ultimately received widespread bipartisan support. Why? Because I worked with all interested parties on it, regardless of political affiliation, to compromise where possible, all to make the legislation better for the people of Nevada. Should the people send me back to Carson City, I will continue to work toward making government programs more efficient and accountable, whether it be in the area of criminal justice or otherwise. That is the way forward for Nevada.

Steve Yeager, a Democrat from Las Vegas, represents District 9 in the Nevada Assembly.

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