by NATASHA VITALE
Senator Barbara Cegavske introduced Senate Bill 224 to the Assembly Committee on Judiciary earlier today. The bill would revise provisions relating to driving under the influence. If passed, SB224 would result in a new $500 fee for those convicted of a DUI in Nevada.
Cegavske said that she was inspired to bring this legislation forward based on testimony from a previous legislative session that also focused on DUIs and funding for specialty courts. She described SB 224 as one that “combined the principles of being tough on crime and smart on crime.”
The fee of $500 would apply to anyone who pleads guilty or is found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance as long as it is punishable as a misdemeanor or lesser included offense. When the bill was introduced in the Senate, it was amended to include the option of community service as an alternative to the fee in case the defendant was unable to pay. The judge would use his or her discretion to determine whether to substitute community service for the fine.
Assemblyman James Ohrenshall raised concerns over the bill, asking Cegavske whether the bill needed a narrower scope for determining when to impose the fee.
“I’m just concerned about the scenario where someone is charged with driving under the influence, perhaps they move forward to a trial and they’re found ‘not guilty’ of driving under the influence,” Ohrenshall said. “However they’re found guilty of running a stop sign or changing lanes without a signal, but under SB 224 then they’d be subjected to that same $500 penalty even though they were not guilty of driving under the influence. Is the net being cast too broadly there?”
In response to Ohrenshall, Cegavske said, “I don’t think so. This is something that would help the specialty courts and you’re [the driver] under the suspicion, and I know that you’re ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but what we were looking at is that person could also do community service if the judge so desired.”
The money collected would go to the specialty courts, which are courts designed to help individuals with substance-abuse problems that can influence other criminal activity, and would be used to pay for programs and treatment, including psychiatric help.
Rural Courts Coordinator of the Nevada Supreme Court, John McCormick, testified in opposition of the bill.
“First I would like to thank the sponsor of this measure for her concern and interest in the specialty courts and her desire to provide more resources,” McCormick said. “However, we have a concern that this is not the proper funding mechanism to do that.”
The committee did not take any action on the bill during today’s meeting.