Democrats advance criminal justice agenda, in tempered form
Democratic lawmakers seized on their majority status this session to introduce a broad criminal justice reform agenda, with dozens of bills addressing the entire spectrum from arrest to prison to reintegration in the community.
Some of their most ambitious efforts — including ones to abolish the death penalty and lower the severity of burglary charges — didn’t even make it out of the Legislature.
“We weren’t able to make a systematic adjustment to the criminal penalties,” said Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tick Segerblom. “We hoped we could reduce a lot of the penalties. We weren’t able to make wholesale changes.”
Others, including those to vacate marijuana convictions and ban Nevada’s use of private prisons in five years, had enough support to clear the Legislature but hit a wall at Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s desk.
And still others, with plenty of amendments and consultation between legislative leaders and Sandoval’s office, earned approval not only from Democratic lawmakers but the governor himself. That included measures allowing more ex-felons to gain back their voting rights and seal up their criminal history.
“We are being lauded by our national organization as a state to follow in terms of rights reinstatement,” said ACLU policy director Holly Welborn, pointing to a bill restoring voter rights for ex-felons. “AB181 was a huge win not just for Nevada … other states will be looking to craft legislation in the future based on that bill.”
In spite of some losses, Democrats say they’re proud of what they were able to accomplish and believe it will improve public safety.
“I think we really did achieve a good balance of making sure we were protecting public safety but making sure people who come out of the justice system have ways to re-integrate,” said Democratic Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Yeager. “Really, that is public safety. If you put people into situations where they can’t get work or they don’t get treatment, they’re going to get back into the criminal justice system.”
Here’s a look at what criminal justice reform bills will become law and which ones fell short:
APPROVED BY THE GOVERNOR:
SB377 – Right to counsel: The legislation, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, creates the Nevada Right to Counsel Commission, which is tasked with conducting a study during the 2017 to 2019 interim about issues relating to the defense of indigent people and putting forward recommendations to the Legislature. Earlier language in the bill would have authorized certain counties to transfer responsibility to the Office of the State Public Defender, but a significant amendment stripped that language from the bill. The amendment also allows the commission to request one bill to be drafted each legislative session.
The legislation received a 36-6 vote in the Assembly and an 18-3 vote in the Senate and was approved by the governor on June 8.
Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Yeager said there have been problems with public defense in rural counties to the point that the ACLU has threatened to sue.
“I think it’s going to be really worthwhile to have a commission look at public defense in the rurals and see how it could be improved,” he said. “We tend to do things differently in Clark and Washoe and don’t really pay attention to the rurals.”
AB470 – Pre-prosecution diversion program: An amendment to this legislation, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, at the end of May changed the mandatory implementation of a pre-prosecution diversion program for certain people who have been accused of committing a misdemeanor crime to an optional implementation of such a program at the discretion of a justice or municipal court judge. People eligible for the program include those charged with a misdemeanor that isn’t a violent crime or driving under the influence, have not been previously convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic offense and have not been previously ordered to complete a pre-prosecution diversion program. The legislation passed the Assembly 30-12 and the Senate 14-7 and was signed by the governor on June 8.
SB451 – Creates Nevada Sentencing Commission: This bill, brought on behalf of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice, would create the Nevada Sentencing Commission. The group would make recommendations about the adoption of sentencing guidelines. The commission would be allowed to request one bill each legislative session related to matters it’s considering. The bill passed the Assembly 39-3 and the Senate 20-0. The governor signed the measure on Wednesday.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty said Nevada’s sentencing structure hasn’t had the frequent review it’s needed over the past two decades, leading judges to dole out vastly different sentences for similar crimes. The Legislature has also assigned penalties to crimes without much thoughtful debate, often designating them “category B” felonies that carry a 1-20 year prison term and leading to an inordinate number of category B felons locked up in Nevada prisons.
Hardesty pointed to Connecticut, which was able to reduce its prison population from 19,000 to 14,000 over five years after setting up a similar commission.
“If you look at the work done in other states that have enacted sentencing commissions, the impact has been dramatic,” he said after the bill-signing ceremony. “It has leveled out sentences, addressing disparities in racial and gender sentences, it has leveled out sentences for those who are convicted essentially of the same or similar crimes but who have in the past received disparate sentences, and it has also had an impact in the length of stay in prison, which is a huge driver of costs.”
SB473 – Reduced penalties for lewdness by a minor: This bill, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, makes it so that the increased penalty for any open and indecent or obscene exposure in the presence of a child under the age of 18 or a vulnerable person does not apply if the person who committed the offense is younger than 18. The bill received no amendments, passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously and was signed into law on June 1.
AB218 – Age consideration in mandatory minimums: The bill, sponsored by Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, authorizes a court to reduce any mandatory minimum period of incarceration that a person is required to serve by up to 35 percent if the court determines that a departure or reduction is warranted given the age of the person and their prospects for rehabilitation. The bill passed out of the Assembly 37-1 and the Senate 19-2 and was signed by the governor on May 31.
SB230 – Debtor judgments: The bill, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, increases the exemption of a judgment debtor’s disposable earnings for any work week to 82 percent if his or her gross weekly salary or wage is $770 or less. It maintains the exemption at 75 percent of a debtor’s disposable earnings if his or her gross weekly salary or wage exceeds $770, among other provisions. The legislation, which was not amended, passed the Assembly 33-7 and the Senate 20-1 and was approved by the governor on June 3.
AB74 – HIV notification: The bill, brought on behalf of the Nevada Department of Corrections, narrows the universe of people who are required to be notified when a prisoner tests positive for HIV. Prison officials said they were notified by the Department of Justice that they were out of compliance with federal law on HIV policy. Their previous policy allowed the names of HIV-positive inmates to potentially get out to other inmates, who then bullied or otherwise discriminated against them. The legislation passed the Assembly 39-1 and the Senate 19-2 and was approved by the governor on May 23, when the legislation took effect.
AB180 – Rights for youth in detention: The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, lays out a bill of rights for youth in detention centers. The measure codifies a child’s right to education, healthy food and physical and mental health services in state statute. It also states that young inmates should be free from corporal punishment unless the force is necessary to maintain the safety of the child or others and free from psychotropic medications unless corrections staff members are adhering to policies laid out in law. It passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously and was approved by the governor on May 26. It takes effect on July 1.
AB420 – Technology for prisoners for job searches and education: Under current law, prisoners can use telephones to communicate with their children under certain circumstances, but this legislation will allow them to use such devices in more situations. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, allows the use of a phone, cell phone or computer for more visits and correspondence, accessing education resources, searching for a job or performing a job task, subject to the approval of prison officials.
The legislation passed the Assembly on party lines, 27-15, and the Senate unanimously. An amendment proposed to the bill in the Senate would have prohibited an offender from being charged to use the equipment to contact their children and would have stripped the provision allowing them to use devices for other telecommunication purposes or any educational, vocational or legal research. The Senate receded from its amendment, and the bill was approved by the governor without it on June 9.
SB306 – Telecommunication devices for educational and vocational purposes: An amendment to this piece of legislation, sponsored by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, authorizes the Department of Corrections to create a pilot program to allow offenders to use telecommunications devices for certain reentry programs and services. The program, administered by the College of Southern Nevada, would allow offenders to receive education and vocational training. The legislation passed the Assembly 34-8 and the Senate unanimously and was approved by the governor on June 9.
“It’s actually going to be a fantastic tool,” said Holly Welborn of the ACLU. “They’ll be able to engage in certain college programs that they couldn’t if they don’t have that in-cell technology.”
SB402 – Solitary confinement: This bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman, prevents prisons from placing people in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure unless the inmate has a hearing first and, if applicable, a psychological evaluation. An amendment to the measure adds an exception to earlier language in the bill barring placing people in solitary confinement solely on the basis of their mental health. The legislation now allows someone with a mental illness to be placed in solitary confinement if necessary for their safety or the safety of someone else so long as they are subject to daily evaluations by a health care provider. The measure passed the Assembly 33-5 and the Senate 17-4 and was approved by the governor on June 8. It takes effect on July 1.
“It’s not as progressive as some other solitary reform bills that we’re seeing around the country, but it is leaps and bounds forward compared to where we were in Nevada,” Welborn said. “No one in the NDOC (Nevada Department of Corrections) will spend their entire prison sentence in solitary confinement anymore in this state.”
AB316 – Reentry employment programs: This legislation, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, authorizes certain prisoners to be provided with re-entry programs related to employment at least three months before their release date. It also allows offenders to receive mediation services with their family and friends and encourages the prison system to collaborate with the governor-established Nevada Community Reentry Task Force. The legislation passed the Assembly and Senate unanimously and was approved by the governor on May 26.
AB251 – Commuting sentences of those convicted younger than 18: Authorizes the State Board of Pardons Commission to commute sentences of death of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole to a sentence that would allow parole if the person is convicted of any crime the person committed when he or she was younger than 18. The measure, sponsored by Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, passed out of the Assembly in April on a 38-0 vote and out of the Senate on a 21-0 vote. It was signed by the governor on June 2.
AB25 – Deductions for probation: Revises the requirements that a probationer must satisfy to be allowed a deduction from his or her period of probation and removes the requirement that the probationer be in compliance with the terms and condition so if the probation and be current on payment of fines and fees ordered by the court. It also allows the governor to reduce an offender’s sentence by up to five days per month that the offender serves. The bill, sponsored by the Assembly Corrections, Parole and Probation Committee, passed out of the Assembly 41-0 in March and out of the Senate on a 12-9 vote. It was approved by the governor on June 9.
AB107 – Eviction records sealed: Provides that eviction court files relating to actions for summary eviction are sealed automatically upon entry of a court order denying or dismissing the action or if a landlord fails to file an affidavit of complaint within 30 days after a tenant files an affidavit to contest the matter. The bill, introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, passed out of the Assembly 38-0. It was signed by the governor on May 22.
AB327 – Record-sealing after dishonorable discharge: Authorizes someone who was dishonorably discharged from probation to apply to the court to seal his or her records if otherwise eligible to have the records sealed. The bill also reduces the length of certain periods that a person is required to wait before petitioning the court to seal records and removes the requirement that a petition be accompanied by the petitioner’s current, verified records received from local agencies of justice. It also removes the requirement of a hearing in some record-sealing cases. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Will McCurdy, passed out of the Assembly in a 36-5 vote and out of the Senate in a 12-8 vote. It was approved by the governor on June 5.
“We are going to do huge outreach,” Welborn said. “We’ll certainly do our part to educate individuals so they know what their rights are and how to get them back.”
SB125 – Record sealing: The bill reduces the period someone must wait before he or she is authorized to petition the court to seal his or her records related to the conviction. Those convicted of violent crimes, burglaries or the most serious felonies — category A — would have to wait 10 years after their release from prison or discharge from parole, down from 15 years. Those convicted of a category B, C or D felony would have to wait 5 years instead of 12, and those convicted of a category E felony would have to wait 2 years instead of 7. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, passed out of the Senate on party lines in April. It was amended to remove provisions restoring felons’ rights to vote and then passed out of the Assembly in a 35-6 vote. It was approved by the governor on May 31.
AB181 – Restoration of civil rights: Would allow individuals who have been convicted of a category B felony that didn’t result in substantial bodily harm to the victim would have their rights to vote restored two years after discharge from probation, parole or prison. Those who were convicted of a category A felony or a category B felony involving substantial bodily harm would still have to petition the court to regain their rights to vote and serve on a jury.
The bill also allows someone dishonorably discharged from probation to have his or her civil rights restored and restores rights to those who have not had their rights restored and are not on probation, parole or serving a sentence as of January 1, 2019. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and watered down from its original version, passed the Assembly in a 29-13 vote and passed the Senate 12-8. It was approved by the governor on June 4.
“I think the No. 1 thing that’s important to look at with AB181 is that it deals with not only honorable discharges but dishonorable discharges,” said Welborn, noting that many people get the “dishonorable” moniker because they’re too poor to pay very high restitution obligations to victims. “They really shouldn’t be called dishonorable discharges. There’s a lot of negative connotation with that. But at the end of the day, it’s no longer going to be an unfair process for poor people.”
AB384 – “Ban the box” for government jobs: Would provide that the criminal history of an applicant under consideration for a state, county, city or unincorporated town job may be considered only after the applicant has had their final in-person interview or has been given a conditional job offer. Agencies that want to rescind an offer based on the person’s criminal record must consider whether the crime was directly related to the work they’d be doing in the new job, as well as the severity of the crime, the age at which it was committed and how much time elapsed. Police and fire jobs, as well as those that involve accessing a criminal records database, are exempt from “Ban the Box” provisions. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, passed out of both houses on party lines. It was approved by the governor on June 3.
SB35 – Criminal justice information sharing: Creates the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Information Sharing of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice and requires the subcommittee to review issues related to records of criminal history. The subcommittee will be authorized to appoint working groups and make recommendations for changes in criminal justice information policies. The bill, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, passed unanimously out of both houses. It was approved by the governor on May 24.
AB326 – Challenging gang member description: This bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Will McCurdy, changes the way that the Division of Parole and Probation describes a defendant as a gang member in a pre-sentence investigation report. If the division believes the defendant disputes information about a gang affiliation, the must tell the defendant and provide supporting documentation. The bill also authorizes a court to order a correction in the pre-sentence report if the prosecution and defense agree to it. A late amendment to the bill stripped a provision that would have required the Division or prosecuting attorney to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant is a gang member if he or she disputes it. The bill passed the Assembly 30-10 and the Senate unanimously. It was signed into law by the governor on June 12.
SB268 – IDs for inmates upon release: This bill requires the Nevada Department of Corrections to provide inmates, upon their release, a photo identification card with personal details that have been formally verified. Existing law didn’t require the department to find backup information before issuing the cards. The bill also requires the DMV to accept such ID cards as proof of offenders’ name and age so they can apply for a regular driver’s license. The bill also allows for a deduction of up to five days off a jail term for completion of a substance abuse treatment program, five days for completing an education program and five days for completing the programs with excellence. The bill passed the Senate 14-7 and cleared the Assembly in a 30-11 vote. It was signed by the governor on June 12.
AB421 – Coordinating health care for prisoners: This bill requires the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate with sheriffs and police agencies to ensure medical and mental health care, as well as substance abuse treatment, are provided in a consistent manner during incarceration and upon release. The bill, backed by Democratic Assembly James Ohrenschall, was amended to remove parts that require a residential confinement program for offenders who have been granted parole but aren’t eligible for release.T he bill passed the Assembly in a 36-5 vote and the Senate in a 21-0 vote. It was signed by the governor on June 8.
AB472 – Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission: This bill, backed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, creates the Juvenile Justice Oversight Commission, which will administer a technical assistance grant from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and undertake a comprehensive review of the Nevada’s juvenile justice system. The legislation also requires the juvenile court to conduct a risk assessment and mental health screening before deciding a case involving a child who is considered delinquent and makes changes to parole for children.
First lady Kathleen Sandoval testified on the bill during hearings; she worked with former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta to shape it. The measure passed unanimously in both the Senate and Assembly and was signed on Friday.
APPROVED BY THE LEGISLATURE:
SJR1 – Clemency Board: This resolution, sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Parks, proposes to amend the Nevada Constitution to “expressly provide for” the State Board of Pardons Commissioners and revise the duties of the board. Originally, the measure would have amended the Constitution to replace the State Board of Pardons Commissioners with the Clemency Board. An amendment struck that provision to instead codify the board in the Constitution and eliminate the requirement that the governor vote in the majority for any action and allows any member of the board to submit matters for consideration to the board. The legislation passed the Assembly 33-8 and the Senate unanimously. It needs to pass the Legislature again in 2019 to go to a vote of the people in 2019.
VETOED BY THE GOVERNOR OR DIED:
AB136 — Releasing someone without monetary bail: Sandoval vetoed Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal’s bill requiring a court to consider whether one or more non-financial conditions can be imposed on a person to mitigate the risk of failure to appear or the risk to public safety. It also authorized the court to use an evidence-based risk assessment tool in deciding whether there is good cause to release a person without bail.
“AB136, while commendable in some respects, would incorporate a new and unproven method for determining whether a criminal defendant should be released from custody without posting bail,” he wrote. He added that it was unclear the provisions of the bill would help judges make important release decisions that balance justice and public safety. The bill had passed the Assembly on a 36-6 vote and the Senate in a 12-9 vote.
“That was a fairly watered-down bill once it got to the governor’s desk. There was no opposition. That was a little puzzling in terms of the veto,” Yeager said.
SB449 – Treatment programs for veterans: A bill expanding specialty courts and judicial discretion over veterans’ cases died without a vote in the Assembly, even though it unanimously passed the Senate. Existing law in Nevada allows district courts to place offenders who are veterans or members of the military on probation and require them to attend and complete a treatment program. The bill, sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committee, authorizes justice courts and municipal courts to establish similar programs and open them up to victims of military sexual assault.
It would also allow defendants who were charged with domestic violence battery or driving under the influence to have those charges conditionally dismissed — a sticking point during hearings. Three similar bills AB56, sponsored by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, AB426, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Will McCurdy, and SB280, sponsored by Senate Judiciary, also died.
AB216 – Acts committed by children who have been abused or trafficked: The legislation, sponsored by Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, would have established a presumption that a child acts in self-defense if he or she commits a physical offense against a person who has physically or sexually abused him or her. The bill never received a vote in committee or in either house and died at the first committee deadline.
AB438 — Reducing and modifying penalties for drug offenses: The governor vetoed Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores’s bill that would have allowed the court to reduce or suspend a sentence of someone who is convicted of possession of certain controlled substances. In his veto letter, Sandoval said the measure was “well intentioned” but “threatens to endanger the safety of Nevada’s communities.” He said that the legislation would increase the likelihood of criminal drug offenders who knowingly sell or manufacture Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, having their sentences suspended or reduced.
“To create an environment in which the prevalence of these dangerous substances might be even slightly increased would represent a clear step in the wrong direction, and undermine efforts to promote safe and livable communities in Nevada,” Sandoval wrote.
The legislation would have authorized a court to reduce or suspend a sentence of a person who is convicted of Level 1 drug possession involving certain controlled substances without requiring them to offer substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of a certain offense, as it the case under current law. Sandoval said that eliminating that requirement would eliminate an incentive for offenders to cooperate with law enforcement.
The bill would have also reduced the penalty for knowingly using or being under the influence of a controlled substance from a category E felony or gross misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances, to a misdemeanor. The bill passed the Assembly 31-11 in April and cleared the Senate in a 12-9 vote in May. Sandoval vetoed it on May 25.
Yeager said he thought the measure would have brought more accuracy, calling smaller crimes “possession” instead of “trafficking.”
“Maybe we’ll try again next session,” he said.
SB184 – Aggregating penalties: The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Parks, would have required courts to aggregate sentences for any additional penalty with the underlying offense. The bill died in Senate Finance and never received a vote in either house.
SB275 – Reducing penalties for burglary: This bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, would have reclassified burglary as a category C felony, which is punishable by 1-5 years behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000. That would be a downgrade from existing law that generally classifies burglary as a category B felony punishable by 1-10 years in prison. The measure had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee but died April 15 without getting a vote by a deadline.
AB237 – Abolishing the death penalty: Democrats wanted to abolish Nevada’s little-used death penalty and make life in prison the worst possible punishment, but that bill died at a mid-April deadline amid opposition from prosecutors, emotional testimony from crime victims’ families and a cold shoulder from Gov. Brian Sandoval. Democratic Assemblyman James Ohrenschall backed the bill, which got a hearing but was never brought up for a vote.
Nevada currently can’t carry out the death penalty even though it has a new execution chamber because drugs it needs for the lethal cocktail have expired and suppliers haven’t stepped up to replace it. Department of Corrections chief James Dzurenda has said the agency is exploring its options for finding a replacement if the need arises.
AB303 – Private prison ban: Sandoval vetoed this bill from Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, which originally sought to ban Nevada’s use of private prisons. It was later amended to institute a ban after five years, unless lawmakers intervene between now and then. Corrections officials plan to send 200 inmates to out-of-state private prisons in the upcoming biennium as they remodel a housing unit at one of their facilities.
Sandoval wrote that the bill took away too much discretion from the prisons director and the executive branch in general, and said it could tie the hands of the state should there be continued overcrowding or a need to segregate more inmates into single cells.
“Between now and 2022, much can happen, and there is no way to predict whether private prisons may need to play a critical part in Nevada’s future prison needs,” he wrote in his June 8 veto message. “It would be ill-advised to foreclose all available options now, should there be similar, or other unexpected, problems in the future.” The Assembly approved the bill in a 38-3, while the Senate voted for it 12-8.
“The governor’s veto message was that the executive branch needed flexibility to do what they do,” Yeager said. “But one of the functions of the Legislature is to be a watchdog, and hold executive agencies accountable. We do it every session. I thought that was really good policy that put people ahead of profits. I’m certainly disappointed.”
SB393 – Prisoner telemarketing and opinion polling: This piece of legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Parks, would have removed a ban on inmates telemarketing and conducting opinion polls as part of their in-prison jobs. The original version of the bill would have also made it easier for the state to purchase supplies made by prisoners. The bill passed the Senate 21-0 in April but never made it out of the Assembly before the second house passage deadline on May 26.
AB302 – Parole and Probation under the Department of Corrections: This bill would have moved the Division of Parole and Probation out from under the Department of Public Safety and into the purview of the Department of Corrections by mid-2019. The bill passed the Assembly Corrections, Parole and Probation committee but never received a floor vote in either house and died in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on sine die.
SB140 – Residential confinement for elderly offenders: Nevada law currently allows the director of the Department of Corrections to assign any offenders to residential confinement or other supervision for the remainder of the person’s sentence if he or she is incapacitated or ill to the point where he or she is unlikely to pose a public safety threat or is expected to die within 12 months. This measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Joe Hardy, would have extended that provision to apply to offenders who are at least 65 years old, haven’t been convicted of certain offenses and have served a majority of the maximum of their terms of sentence. The measure passed the Senate 13-9 — with Hardy joining the Democratic caucus in support of the measure — and the Assembly 32-10.
Sandoval vetoed the measure on May 25 saying that it has a “noble goal” but “poses risks that are not justified by the purported benefits of changing the law. He said that “age alone is not a compelling reason to extend benefits to some inmates which are not afforded to others,” especially when older inmates may pose a greater safety risk than younger ones.
AB259 — Vacating and sealing marijuana conviction records: The governor rejected a bill that would allow a person who was convicted of a marijuana misdemeanor to have the conviction vacated and the records sealed. The measure, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Will McCurdy, would apply to people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana or violating any provision of law involving marijuana that is legal as of January 1. It would also allow a judge to depart from mandatory minimum sentences on certain drug crimes. The bill passed out of the Assembly on a 27-15 vote on party lines and later saw a party-line, 12-9 vote in the Senate.
In his veto message, Sandoval noted “there is much to commend in AB259” but indicated it went a bridge too far, especially since other bills this session made it easier to seal criminal records. He also said the bill wasn’t clear on what other marijuana-related offenses that are now legal it would allow to be vacated and sealed. He took issue with the bill allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in drug possession cases other than ones involving the date rape drug.
“Simply giving judges the statutory discretion to depart from otherwise mandatory statutory sentencing requirements is an incomplete solution, and one that opens the door for potential inequities depending on the preferences and practices of each individual judge,” he wrote. A similar measure sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Brittney Miller, AB345, died without receiving a committee hearing.
Welborn said there was an injustice served by the veto. She said it’s common for states to vacate convictions after something is decriminalized; obsolete sodomy laws are an example.
“It’s an important piece of symbolism because there’s been a referendum of the people, so it shouldn’t be considered a crime anymore,” she said. “The other piece of symbolism it kinda leaves behind is here we have this [marijuana] market controlled predominantly by wealthy people but yet the people who were engaged in minimal sales of marijuana who are largely poor are still going to walk around with a scarlet letter.”