LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- A big change is coming to Nevada’s criminal justice system. Most traffic tickets will no longer be considered criminal offenses and people will no longer be going to jail for unpaid tickets.
Governor Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 219 and Assembly Bill 116 on Tuesday afternoon. The legislation will end Nevada’s practice of issuing bench warrants and suspending driver’s licenses when people can’t afford to pay for minor traffic tickets.
“I’m excited for our community … who can now breathe a little bit, actually a lot,” Akiko Cooks said. She has been pushing to decriminalize traffic tickets in Nevada for years with the Mass Liberation Project and the Free Black Mamas initiative.
According to the Fines and Fees Justice Center, when the pandemic forced courts to close in March last year, more than 250,000 traffic warrants were outstanding in Las Vegas Justice Court alone.
Cooks shared sometimes the women she helps are in jail because of a traffic ticket with a bail as low as $50 dollars and just can't afford to pay.
“The impact and the trauma that happens just from being in jail for two to three hours is a lot,” Cooks said.
Last month, Cooks organized the “Black Mama Bailout” fundraiser, which paid the bails of women in Las Vegas area jails. Nearly all the women who had their bails paid were stuck in jail because of traffic tickets turned into warrants.
“We bailed out 24 and only one was non-traffic,” Cooks said.
Decriminalizing minor traffic violations does not mean fines will go away, instead they will go to collections.
Part of the legislation is set to go into effect July 1, 2021, the rest by January 1, 2023. By January 1, 2023, every court in Nevada will have to cancel outstanding bench warrants if someone failed to appear on a traffic ticket.