by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
If Nevada wants to keep roadways safer, law enforcement should focus less on enforcing lower level offenses like stopping drivers just because they have an outdated registration, says Democratic state Sen. Dallas Harris.
Harris presented Senate Bill 296 Wednesday, which would prohibit police officers from citing drivers solely based on expired registration, a single broken taillight or improperly displayed license plates and tags.
As long as drivers obey the speed limits and other safety laws, Harris said officers should “let people go about their business.”
“I think this bill makes a lot of sense,” she said. “We want zero fatalities on our roads. Why are we clogging them up with this ticky tacky stuff?”
SB 296 passed out of committee Thursday in a 6-2 vote with state Sens. Marilyn Dondero Loop, a Democrat, and Jeff Stone, a Republican, opposed.
“If we don’t want (police) to cite people, I think we need to go back to the law and make provisions in statute so we are very clear with our law enforcement with what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing,” Stone said.
Dondero Loop said she “just wasn’t quite there” in her support for the bill.
The legislation, which was first heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, is the latest effort by lawmakers to tamp down on enforcement for lower level traffic offenses, which disproportionately target communities of color.
In the 2021 session, lawmakers unanimously passed Assembly Bill 116 decriminalizing certain minor traffic offenses and converting infractions like talking on a cellphone while driving or driving with a broken taillight into a civil matter.
Leisa Moseley-Sayles, the Nevada State Director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center, collaborated with UNLV on a study looking at traffic stops in Southern Nevada ahead of the 2021 session.
According to the report, Moseley said they found that “a whopping 58.6% of those traffic violations that turned into warrants were for administrative infractions.”
“These traffic stops mostly impact communities of color, poor communities, particularly the Black community,” she said
Idalis Figuereoa, an intern for Harris who presented alongside her, said the goal of SB 296 is to cut down on pretextual stops or “when peace officers use minor offenses to perform traffic stops then use these stops as a basis or pretext to conduct a search and find other crimes.”
The bill originally included other minor offenses, like driving less than 5 miles over the speed limit outside of school crossings and pedestrian areas, but was amended out of safety concerns from law enforcement.
Nevada already has some traffic offenses, like driving without a seatbelt, as a secondary offense, Harris said.
“There have been several times people have tried to come and move our secondary seat belt law to a primary one for safety reasons but we have never done that,” she said.
SB 296 seeks to add “much less dangerous offenses” to the list of secondary offenses, Harris added.
For drivers who fail to register their car, she said the DMV already levies hefty fines and there is no reason officers should pull people over for it.
“If you are 60 days or less and you haven’t registered your vehicle, as long as you have your hands on 10 and 2, you are going the speed limit and you have not broken any other law, we are going to let officers give you a break,” Harris said. “On day 61 if your tag turns the wrong color for the third month, you’re getting pulled over.”
Provision on broken brake lights exclude cases where both lights are out as well as headlamps.
“If your taillight is out, just one, if you brake light is out, just one, if you’re missing a reflector, just one, we’re going to let you keep rolling,” Harris said.
She added the legislation allows officers to pull over drivers if they have a broken taillight, but only to give a written or verbal warning.
While the bill’s supporters say the legislation will benefit the entire community, Moseley-Sayles added the proposal would also keep law enforcement safe.
A 2017 Department of Justice study found “the most common policing activity that leads to a police officer fatality is an officer initiating a traffic stop,” she said.
Law enforcement agencies, police unions, district attorneys and Clark County all testified in neutral of the bill.
Rick McCann, the executive director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, said while he thinks “neutral sucks,” he said there were members who both liked and disliked the bill driving the decision to testify in neutral.
“I will make this editorial comment,” he said. “The extent that we need to legislate that these violations should not be used as a sole reason to pull over people, we see this as a positive effort in that respect.”