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Metro supported criminal justice bills that Lombardo later panned as ‘soft on crime’

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Election 2022
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On the campaign trail, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has railed against “soft-on-crime” laws and policies adopted by his 2022 general election opponent and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.

But during the 2019 legislative session, when many of those bills were introduced and passed, representatives of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department made appearances several times to testify in support or neutral on policies that Lombardo and his campaign would attack just three years later.

Not all of the bills highlighted by Lombardo’s campaign as “soft on crime” were supported by Metro at the time, and the bulk of studies on crime rates in Clark County indicate that violent crime and property crime are still below pre-pandemic totals in spite of recent increases (check The Indy’s fact check for context on crime statistics).

In a statement, Lombardo’s campaign said that Democratic control of the Legislature and governor’s office over the last two legislative sessions had “forced law enforcement to minimize the negative impacts of unhelpful legislation.”

“While some of these bills were made less harmful by LVMPD and other law enforcement advocates, now in law and in practice, as feared they have handcuffed police, made it easier for criminals to walk free, and have lessened penalties for career criminals,” Lombardo said in a statement. 

Metro testified as neutral on several bills later panned as “soft on crime” by Lombardo and his campaign, including at least two where the police agency switched from opposition to neutral after changes were made to the bill.

Most notably in that list is AB236, a 156-page bill from the 2019 legislative session that reduced penalties for some lower-level crimes and aimed to increase access to “diversion” programs that offer offenders treatment and services in lieu of time behind bars. 

In 2018, under Republican former Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada partnered with the Crime and Justice Institute to do a deep-dive study into the state’s growing prison population and come up with recommendations to alleviate the stress on the state carceral system. It was an attempt to avoid having to build a new prison or continue sending inmates to out-of-state private prisons.

Out of that study, a panel of criminal justice leaders advanced 25 recommendations to the Legislature in what would become AB236 (a Metro lobbyist on that panel voted against sending the recommendations). 

A lobbyist for Metro testified against the bill during its first hearing in March, but said he believed “we can come to a happy medium that helps make positive reforms to our criminal justice system, and at the same time does not throw public safety out with the bathwater.” 

A group of conservative-leaning organizations even publicly urged Republican lawmakers to support the bill during the session.

After months of negotiations, tweaks and four adopted amendments, Metro testified in neutral on the bill during a hearing in late May “in the spirit of compromise and negotiation.” The bill passed on a 19-2 vote in the Senate and on a party-line 28-12 vote in the Assembly

On the campaign trail, Lombardo has been critical of the legislation and claimed that it is “directly related” to increases in crime rates. On his campaign website, Lombardo says he will “repeal Steve Sisolak’s soft-on-crime policies,” which entails ending “reduced sentences for drug traffickers and burglars, [and] eliminate leniency for career criminals.”

“Despite now seeing the negative impact of these soft-on-crime policies, Steve Sisolak refuses to address the issues with the legislation, and instead blames law enforcement for the results of his own policies and leaves law enforcement to clean up his mess every time,” Lombardo said in an emailed statement.

A spokesperson for Sisolak said in an emailed statement that Lombardo is "desperately trying to cover up his failed record by blaming bipartisan legislation he supported as sheriff."

Lobbyists for Metro also testified neutral on bills that decriminalized minor traffic violations (AB116) and another that decriminalized jaywalking (AB403) — both of which passed in the 2021 legislative session with large bipartisan majorities in favor. Both bills were included in a list of “soft on crime” bills highlighted in a tweet by a Lombardo spokesperson.

Other criminal justice reform bills backed by Metro in 2019 include:

AB307: Removal from gang databases

This 2019 bill sponsored by Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas) establishes some restrictions on how police forces can use gang databases, including a requirement that individuals listed in the gang database have an opportunity to contest the registration and that police departments deliver a written notice to anyone included in the database. 

A lobbyist for Metro said during a May 2019 hearing that the agency supported the bill, and that it already “is doing most of what this bill directs.” The bill passed unanimously in the Assembly and on a 17-4 vote in the Senate. It was included in a list of “soft-on-crime” bills tweeted by a spokeswoman for Lombardo’s campaign earlier this month

AB 192: Expanded record-sealing

This bill from 2019 created a legal process allowing a person convicted of any offense that already has been decriminalized, or is later decriminalized, to have their criminal history sealed, except for traffic charges. It passed unanimously in the Senate and on a 37-3 vote in the Assembly.

A lobbyist for Metro testified in support of the bill during a May hearing. Lombardo made an indirect reference to the bill in a Twitter post on July 6 that attacked Sisolak for signing legislation that “Make[s] it easier for criminals to seal their records.”

AB 291: Red Flag laws

Nevada lawmakers in 2019 passed this bill creating extreme risk protection orders, which allow family members or law enforcement to request a court temporarily seize an individual’s firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. The bill was substantially amended from its original form, and a lobbyist representing Metro testified in favor of the amended language of the bill.

It passed on party-line votes, 28-13 in the Assembly and 12-8 in the Senate. Lombardo’s campaign website says as governor, he will “look for ways to streamline government and remove antiquated laws, including Nevada’s Red Flag law.”

Since the law went into effect in 2020, only 13 extreme risk protection orders have been issued.

SB551: Payroll tax, ‘More Cops’ extension

One of the better-known pieces of legislation to pass out of the 2019 session, this multifaceted bill included an extension of a set-to-sunset payroll tax (as well as eliminating the legally stalled, never-funded, quasi-voucher Education Savings Account program).

In a confusing bit of legislative maneuvering, Democratic lawmakers proposed tacking on a provision permanently extending the “More Cops” sales tax, created by state lawmakers in 2005 as a way to boost police funding in Clark County. The original version of “More Cops” had a prospective expiration date of 2025, which SB551 proposed to eliminate — leading a Metro lobbyist to testify in favor of the bill and amendment, as making the tax permanent would be “critical for our agency and for public safety.”

However, another bill (AB443) contained substantially similar provisions permanently extending the tax, and passed both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan majorities.

SB551 was approved on party-lines out of both legislative chambers, but aspects related to the extension of the payroll tax were ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court almost two years later.

Updated at 12:26 p.m. on 8/23/22 to include a statement from a spokesperson for the Sisolak campaign.

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