MINUTES OF THE meeting
ASSEMBLY Committee on Judiciary
February 6, 2003
The Committee on Judiciarywas called to order at 8:07 a.m., on Thursday, February 6, 2003. Chairman Bernie Anderson presided in Room 3138 of the Legislative Building, Carson City, Nevada, and, via simultaneous videoconference, in Room 4401 in the Grant Sawyer Administrative Building in Las Vegas. Exhibit A is the Agenda. Exhibit B is the Guest List. All exhibits are available and on file at the Research Library of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:
Mr. Bernie Anderson, Chairman
Mr. John Oceguera, Vice Chairman
Mrs. Sharron Angle
Mr. David Brown
Mr. John C. Carpenter
Mr. Jerry D. Claborn
Mr. Marcus Conklin
Mr. Jason Geddes
Mr. Don Gustavson
Mr. William Horne
Mr. Garn Mabey
Mr. Harry Mortenson
Ms. Genie Ohrenschall
Mr. Rod Sherer
COMMITTEE MEMBERS ABSENT:
Ms. Barbara Buckley (excused)
STAFF MEMBERS PRESENT:
Allison Combs, Committee Policy Analyst
Carrie Lee, Committee Secretary
Paul V. Townsend, CPA, CIA, Legislative Auditor, Audit Division, Legislative Counsel Bureau, Carson City, Nevada
Ian J. Allan, Deputy Legislative Auditor, Audit Division, Legislative Counsel Bureau, Carson City, Nevada
Jane Bailey, Deputy Legislative Auditor, Audit Division, Legislative Counsel Bureau, Carson City, Nevada
Deborah A. Agosti, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Nevada, Carson City, Nevada
Ron Titus, Director and State Court Administrator, Administrative Office of the Courts, Carson City, Nevada
Dorothy Nash Holmes, Mental Health and Program Services, Nevada Department of Corrections, Carson City, Nevada
Howard L. Skolnik, Assistant Director, Industrial Programs, Nevada Department of Corrections, Las Vegas, Nevada
Glen Whorton, Assistant Director of Operations, Nevada Department of Corrections, Carson City, Nevada
Chairman Anderson made opening remarks, noted a quorum was present, and acknowledged Judge Bunch who watched the hearing via the Internet in Battle Mountain. Several presentations were scheduled to be heard, the first from the Legislative Audit Division. During the interim, the Legislative Commission had decided committees that had jurisdiction over policy should have the opportunity to listen to the audits that pertained to the questions before them so they would be aware of the problems before them. He welcomed Mr. Paul V. Townsend, Legislative Auditor with the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
Mr. Townsend introduced Mr. Ian J. Allan, Deputy Legislative Auditor, Audit Division, Legislative Counsel Bureau, and Ms. Jane Bailey, Deputy Legislative Auditor, Legislative Counsel Bureau. Mr. Townsend said his office provided independent, objective information to the Legislature to assist in the oversight function, accomplished by auditing state agencies within the Executive and Judicial Branches of state government, and would assist local entities, such as school districts, upon the direction of the Legislature. This audit of the Judicial Branch provided a follow-up on some accounting issues that had been addressed in the 1995 audit, and through it they assessed the progress in implementing prior audit recommendations. The objective was to assess the accounting and financial management guidance provided to the courts by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to evaluate the collection practices used in determining collection rates of the courts. This was accomplished through audit testing and surveys sent to all courts. Collection rates had since improved, particularly at both justice and administrative courts. Mr. Townsend said both the AOC and the local courts should be commended for their efforts. The changes had resulted in significant additional collections that benefited both state and local courts.
Mr. Townsend identified areas where further improvements could be made and recognized challenges faced by the AOC. Local governments played a large role in funding district, justice, and municipal courts since state funding only covered salaries for district court judges. All other costs were funded through the local governments. This made changes proposed by the AOC difficult to implement, particularly if they involved additional local resources. The AOC was in the best position to provide guidance and training, and to identify ways to improve consistency. Mr. Townsend thought local courts needed to be convinced that they too would benefit from improved collection practices. The AOC had accepted the recommendations and had stated their commitment to implement them.
Mr. Ian Allan introduced the Audit Report of the State of Nevada Judicial Branch of Government Administrative Oversight of the State Court System (Exhibit C), which included audit highlights and correspondence dated 2002 from A. William Maupin, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Nevada, and Mr. Ron Titus, Executive Director, Administrative Office of the Courts. The miscellaneous General Fund account noted on page 7 was no longer in existence. Money that had been previously allocated to that fund had been disbursed to the other programs that received assessment revenue. All the funding for the AOC was from administrative assessments and was just over $1 million.
Chairman Anderson stated that the Assembly Committee on Judiciary did not deal with fiscal matters on a regular basis. Questions about administrative assessments were an unusual subject for the Committee in terms of the funds that came from justice courts—part went to the state School Permanent Fund, part went to the state General Fund, and part went to the Administrative Office of the Court for their operations. Mr. Allan added that state fines were sent to the Permanent School Fund; the local courts retained local fines. Chairman Anderson interjected that excluded justice courts, whose money went to the county General Fund. Mr. Allan said a portion of the administrative assessment was retained. He read from the first paragraph on page 8 of the report: “Municipal and justice courts are allowed to use $7 from each administrative assessment for their own purposes. Assessments are based on the amount of fine imposed and range from $15 to $105. District courts are allowed to use $5 from each administrative assessment. District court assessments are $25 for each count on which there is a finding of guilt.”
Chairman Anderson mentioned that a large percentage of revenues had been uncollected. The Legislature assisted in the collection effort by various means, and courts then saw a larger percent of fines collected.
Mr. Allan summarized the audit report.
Findings and Recommendations
1. Internal control weaknesses persisted despite improved guidance.
Mr. Allan said that these issues were recognized by the Nevada Judicial Collections Task Force that was appointed by the Supreme Court in response to Senate Concurrent Resolution 10 of the Sixty-ninth Legislative Session. The study outlined the type of material and training methods that needed to be developed to educate the judiciary and court staff. He believed that their work was not completed and that it should be.
2. Improvement in collection rates not consistent across courts.
· Collection rates at Justice and Municipal Courts were at 81 percent, up from the 63 percent reported in the 1995 audit.
· Collection actions were untimely. On average, the first collection action was taken approximately 45 days after the court date or payment due date. Timely actions were essential to timely payment, agreed upon by auditors and Task Force.
Chairman Anderson clarified that when talking about “the courts,” Committee members should know it meant the clerks, accounting staff, and other workers, including the judges whose job it was to oversee the overall operation of the courts.
Assemblyman Mortenson wondered if the administrative assessment was proportionate to the size of the fine, so that the larger the fine, the more the court system benefited. Mr. Allan answered yes; the size of the fine was determined by jurisdiction of the court. For instance, a $49 fine had a $15 administrative assessment fee, where a $600 fine would have a $105 assessment fee. There was no consistent ratio used to determine the fee. Mr. Mortenson commented that for smaller fines the assessment was often larger than the fine itself. Mr. Allan noted that it depended on the court.
Assemblywoman Angle asked if there were statutes that governed compliance from the courts, and if so, were any laws being broken. Mr. Allan answered that the courts were not breaking any laws; rather, they were not doing all that they could to account for the fees that they did collect because many of the transactions were in cash. The Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 353A.090 required an adequate control environment for all state agencies, which was a good business practice.
Mrs. Angle asked if there were any incentives or penalties for non-compliance issues and for how long non-compliance was tolerated. Mr. Townsend mentioned that in the audit process there was a follow-up requirement, wherein the state agency in question had to prepare and implement a plan of action under NRS 353A.090 or penalties would be levied.
Chairman Anderson pointed out that the Legislature set specific penalties for specific crimes. When fines went uncollected, the court absorbed the impact. Money that was earmarked for a specific fund in the Office of the Attorney General but not received was later taken out of the General Fund as an obligation so the program could still function.
Mrs. Angle asked why money was taken out of the General Fund, since it ultimately bore the burden. Mr. Allan answered that in this particular case, the Administrative Office of the Courts was funded entirely from administrative assessments. Local courts were funded through local governments. He said there was not much of an impact on the General Fund.
Mrs. Angle restated her question and added when was the money taken from the General Fund and under whose authority. Ms. Jane Bailey, Deputy Legislative Auditor, asserted that the distribution of assessments was based primarily on percentages covered under legislation from last session. Slightly more than 50 percent went to the state court system, the Supreme Court, the AOC, and their various programs.
Assemblyman Sherer asked if there was a time line to pay fines, perhaps a 10‑year limit. Mr. Allan answered that it was a much shorter time. Troopers in the field writing citations put court appearance dates on them. He guessed that the defendant had approximately 30 days to make payment. Mr. Sherer asked if fines initiated by the courts followed a different process.
Jane Bailey said that the audit team would explain the process later in the presentation. She modified what Mr. Allan said previously about the amount of the administrative assessment being dependant on the amount of the fine. At the justice and municipal courts, the local court kept $7 regardless of the size of the administrative assessment. The balance of the fine was remitted to the state to be divided as discussed. She referred to the table on page 7 of Exhibit C and continued the summary of the audit report.
· Collection rates at district courts remained poor. Testing was based on convictions of criminal cases. The collection rate at the two largest district courts was about 23 percent. There was no evidence of corrections or enforcement actions taken for offenders who failed to comply with their sentences.
· Bench warrants had limited effectiveness and were more costly than other collection actions. The Task Force believed that they should be used as a last resort.
· Administrative assessments were inconsistently applied to bench warrant financial charges.
Ms. Bailey stated that the audit team had made six recommendations that the Nevada Supreme Court had accepted; they could be found on page 22 of the report (Exhibit C). Chairman Anderson asked if Ms. Bailey had been involved in the 1995 audit. Ms. Bailey replied in the affirmative. Chairman Anderson asked if the audit had played a significant role in identifying the problems of the court. Ms. Bailey answered that the Task Force had produced some very good reports that identified good issues and made good suggestions. Additional work needed to be done to implement them.
Chairman Anderson emphasized that while judges were elected, the court staff remained the same. He wondered if changes in the law regarding the collection of fines had helped with financial management of the system.
Ms. Bailey answered that additional collection methods were helpful to the courts that used them, while other courts did not seem to be aware of them or of the recommendations from the Task Force.
Assemblyman Carpenter said he wanted to hear about the Task Force’s report on the Elko courts at a later date. He reminded the Committee that they were not dealing with people who had a lot of funds. He was not saying that the courts should not try to collect, but that it was difficult. There were many other circumstances to consider, due to the nature of the clientele.
Chairman Anderson asked if there was an accounting methodology for when paying an administrative assessment would be unreasonable under extenuating circumstances. Ms. Bailey asked him to clarify whether he was speaking about administrative assessments in district courts. Chairman Anderson noted that municipal and justice courts had the largest amount of problems. Ms. Bailey noted that in the audit sample, justice and municipal courts collected 87 percent of administrative assessments. At district courts the collection rate was much lower.
Chairman Anderson asked about the differences in administrative assessments between the courts. Ms. Bailey said that in addition to the type of clientele, districts courts assess $25. The court was allowed to keep $5, which was not much incentive to pay for collection actions. Offenders usually also had other duties to fulfill, such as restitution. Courts might not know how to contact offenders to take action.
Chairman Anderson expressed concern that there was nothing that could be done with accounting procedures to help judges collect. Ms. Bailey explained that in one case out of sixty, a judge did waive the administrative assessment. Chairman Anderson asked if that would be a proper process that could be tracked with an audit trail. Ms. Bailey responded yes, it could be part of a sentence to waive the assessment fee.
Assemblyman Horne queried what percentage of administrative assessments was going uncollected. He noted that, on page 17, the combined collection rate was just under 23 percent. He asked what a reasonable collection rate goal would be. Ms. Bailey remarked that a goal had not been decided. Very few courts kept statistics and records on actual collection rates, even courts with good practices. She said that to come up with an objective answer to the question was almost impossible.
Assemblywoman Angle wondered if it might be helpful for the courts to have a central collection point in the state to get a better return. Ms. Bailey said she would refer the question to the Administrative Office of the Courts and then concluded her presentation.
Mr. Townsend thanked the Committee for the invitation to speak. Chairman Anderson extended thanks to Mr. Townsend, saying his policy work in the legislative process was often overlooked. With the state of Nevada looking for different funding sources for governmental and state projects, the audit was an important tool.
Chairman Anderson acknowledged the presence of Judge Bob Rose in the audience and welcomed Chief Justice Deborah A. Agosti. Chief Justice Agosti, Supreme Court of Nevada, spoke as representative for the Court. Mr. Ron Titus, Director and State Court Administrator with the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC), and Ms. Karen Baggett, Deputy Director with the AOC, joined her. Ms. Judy Holt, also with the AOC, was present in the audience.
Before she undertook giving an explanation on the importance of administrative assessments, the Chief Justice gave a brief personal history. She had been a trial judge for 16 years, 14 of those spent with the Second District Court of Washoe County, and 2 years as a justice of the peace in Reno Township. As a former prosecutor with the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office, she remembered a time when there were no administrative assessments. Administrative assessments were created by the Legislature in 1995. She explained that a fine was a punishment for an infraction. Nevada did not separate its infractions; “A misdemeanor is a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor,” which meant a no-left-turn infraction was treated the same as battery or trespass or disorderly conduct.
Chief Justice Agosti said administrative assessments were less than 20 years old, and when judging collection efforts, it would be best to remember that it was a process that dealt with many changes and a learning curve for all involved at the courts. The Chief Justice thought that the courts had done a fine job, considering the 87 percent collection rate was higher than the 65 percent national average. In response to the question about non-compliance posed by Assemblywoman Angle, the Chief Justice noted that audit suggestions were not law. The Administrative Office of the Court and the Supreme Court could help courts do their job in a better way. Chief Justice Agosti discussed theAudit Highlights(Exhibit C), which alluded to $90,000 that had been embezzled from four courts. That figure was less than one tenth of one percent of the total amount of money that had been collected. She said it was a small amount to have been embezzled when many millions of dollars had been handled. She believed that the largest single fee that made up most of the $90,000 was from a drug court case. She stated that the collection system could still be improved.
Chief Justice Agosti said she wanted to correct a few errors made in the presentation by the legislative auditors, who had said there was a separate fine for each separate offense and by statute, there was a separate assessment added for each offense. She said the fine was in fact $25 per defendant in district court, not $25 per offense. Chairman Anderson said that was an interesting point and he should refresh his memory on how and why administrative assessments began. In municipal and justice courts where they dealt with misdemeanors, the fees collected went to local governmental entities and not to the state.
The Chief Justice disagreed. She said the administrative assessments that were tacked onto fines were ultimately distributed according to the chart on page 7 (Exhibit C). The local government did not receive any money; the local courts received $7 per administrative assessment. Fines assessed against violations of state statute went to the General Fund of the state, which would pay into the Permanent School Fund. If a citation was written against a violation of a county or city ordinance, the money went to the entity that was offended. Fines were handled so differently than administrative assessments that it could be confusing.
Chairman Anderson said that in the past some justice courts might have taken citations from the Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) and changed the violation of state statutes to those of county ordinances. Chief Justice Agosti interjected that the court would not take that action; it would be the District Attorney or the city attorney because they were the people who did the charging. The court would ultimately receive the money. Chairman Anderson said he knew of conflicting information, but that could have changed over the past two years. Chief Justice Agosti said that the District Attorney could amend the charge, and she apologized for not knowing what had transpired in the lower courts on this issue. This practice persisted in Washoe County, where, if a defendant pled not guilty to a misdemeanor charge, the District Attorney would file a formal complaint and the trial would not be based on the original citation. That practice varied from court to court. When a formal complaint was filed, a defendant would get a change in violation from state to county or from county to state.
Chief Justice Agosti testified that there were differences in the types of people living in the various jurisdictions. People who went to justice and municipal courts paid their fines. She said that bench warrants were effective but costly, and she did not like to see people picked up on a warrant for a no-left-turn violation.
Assemblyman Carpenter brought up bail forfeiture. A fine went to the schools, while counties took the position that they could keep forfeited bail. Chief Justice Agosti mentioned the huge deficit before the state and said questions like these took on new importance. She disagreed with Mr. Allan’s previous statement about having 30 days to pay; it was 30 days to appear before the court. If a person chose to make bail and then did not appear in court, the court could forfeit the bail. People could plead guilty but not have the money to pay the resulting fines. The percentage of bail forfeiture versus court appearance varied from community to community. Each court handled such matters differently; some offered the defendant the opportunity to make payments. The Chief Justice mentioned that the 10-year limit for collecting fines that had been alluded to in earlier testimony could be reasonable, and that there could be a limitation period when fines would be uncollected, but that she did not have the statistics in front of her.
Assemblyman Sherer asked if there were electronic payment options at the courts. The Chief Justice responded that it had been talked about and that every court had different methods of collection. She did not think any court was currently using electronic methods of payment and noted that many courts would not accept checks.
Chief Justice Agosti responded to items that had been discussed earlier. She said there would always be a risk when dealing with cash, despite excellent accounting practices. When an individual had been adjudicated and sentenced in the district court, other statutes pertained to the defendant’s ability to pay. If the collection rate was 23 percent at the district court, the Chief Justice was not sure that rate could be improved; one reason was because many people who appeared before a district court were indigent. When a defendant pled guilty, he could be charged with paying for court-ordered tests such as chemical analysis tests and a genetic marker test. There might also be monthly supervision fees, mental health or substance abuse evaluations, therapy or counseling, attorney’s fees, and restitution. The cost could run into thousands of dollars assessed upon an indigent person. Chief Justice Agosti reminded the Committee to understand the many financial demands that a district court could place on an indigent defendant; that same burden might not exist for people who were not indigent who appeared in municipal or justice courts.
The Chief Justice addressed Assemblyman Horne’s question about uncollected fines. Regarding accounting procedures to collect fines that had not been received, she mentioned that she had spoken with Judy Holt, the accountant for the Administrative Office of the Court, who said that a waiver for an administrative assessment for an indigent person was not an accounting practice, just something that a judge might do.
Chief Justice Agosti said the idea of a central collection center had been discussed informally among courts and judges. Some judges did not see it as part of their job to be collectors and to make money; the courts were there to do justice. She said when courts assessed fines it was done so as punishment, not to earn money. When a court ordered an administrative assessment, they did so according to state statute to defray the cost of processing someone through the system. In district courts where the defendants were primarily indigent, where the volume of cases was much smaller than in the justice and municipal courts, there were fewer people subject to the assessment, and the assessment was smaller. There were no incentives for courts to pursue collecting administrative assessments. It was often a condition of probation to pay an assessment and then to have the probation department monitor the collection of the probationer’s assessment. If the probationer did not pay, there were no real consequences. The Chief Justice asked what probation officer would want to send someone to prison for not paying an administrative assessment. She said she knew people should be held responsible for their actions, but it might not always be possible to collect the fees.
Chairman Anderson reminded Chief Justice Agosti that Mr. Titus was waiting to present. He acknowledged that judges were placed in difficult positions trying to collect money in addition to all their other duties. He said that the audits would continue, and he hoped that the vision of the Chief Justice would help to bring about positive changes.
Chief Justice Agosti mentioned that she planned to convene two commissions this year; one would deal with administrative assessments and the other with court funding at all levels. Chairman Anderson added that Justice Rose had set a very high standard with his commissions when he was Chief Justice, which had brought dramatic changes to the court. Judges at all levels understood their role and function.
Mr. Ron Titus, Director and State Court Administrator, Administrative Office of the Courts, said his PowerPoint presentation about the audit plan response and an overview of the judiciary and the AOC would be brief. Mr. Titus provided a packet of information (Exhibit D) that included:
Chairman Anderson complimented Mr. Titus on the audit being well done. He also commended Justices Maupin and Young for their helpfulness. Mr. Titus presented six recommendations and an action plan from the Legislative Audit Plan Overview:
1. Adopt the revised minimum accounting standards for all courts
2. Develop standard collection methodologies to reflect best practices
3. Develop a policy covering the imposition of administrative assessments on bench warrant financial charges
Chief Justice Agosti interjected that she intended to convene a commission that consisted of members of the judiciary and lead clerical staff to get consensus to determine when and how an administrative assessment ought to be applied. She felt that this was a trust and confidence issue; an individual should not be treated differently on the imposition of one court as against another. There should be consistency within the same state law, brought about by consensus through all lower courts.
Mr. Titus continued with the last three of the six recommendations:
4. Provide regular training for staff at all courts; included in the budget would be a provision for an auditor’s position
5. Develop procedures for reconciling state fines and administrative assessments
6. Work with State Controller to develop appropriate forms for courts in remittance of administrative assessments revenues
Mr. Titus explained that additional resources would be required to carry out the recommendations for several proposed staff positions and new technology. He briefly mentioned the overview of the Judicial Branch in his report (Exhibit D).
Mr. Titus drew attention to the funding sources for the district courts; judges’ salaries were paid out of the state General Fund, and staff, facilities, and operations were paid out of the County Fund. Municipal and justice courts were funded completely through local city funds. Responsibilities of the Administrative Office of the Courts were listed in NRS 1.360. Of most interest to the Committee he said would be the development of a uniform system for collecting and compiling statistics regarding the operation of the state court system, the need to develop procedures for accounting and internal auditing, the compilation of statistics, and the annual report. The AOC was responsible for eleven budget accounts and the budget for the Nevada Supreme Court.
Mr. Titus described the Judicial Council, which was made up of judges and court administrators from each of the three branches of the courts, as the legislative body of the judicial branch. It provided representation to all courts, with the responsibility to develop and recommend policies for the administration of the judiciary and reviewed proposed legislation and court rules. Four committees comprised the Council: Rules and Legislation, Judicial Education, Court Technology, and Court Administration. The Judicial Council was key to gaining consistency among courts across the state. He described some current projects. One was a case management system made possible with new Nevada Rural Courts System technology currently being used in Pahrump. Mr. Titus said with the decline of administrative assessments, implementation would take longer than expected. A new multi-county integrated justice information system was being piloted. The system allowed for information to flow between all levels of the justice system, ultimately ending up in the state Criminal History Repository, due to the cooperation of many agencies. Other projects included certification of court interpreters by the state, a rural courts commission, and a state and tribal judges consortium to talk about jurisdictional issues at justice courts across regions.
Chairman Anderson said he appreciated Mr. Titus’ report. In 1995, the Committee had been concerned with changing the statutes relative to tracking and obtaining statistical data from different courts on repeat offenders in a timely manner. He asked for a copy of the Judicial District caseload statistics in a standard printout. Chairman Anderson detailed how in the past he and Assemblyman Carpenter had attempted to pass legislation to set up a future court of appeals. Legislation had been requested several times, including this session, but had been withdrawn yet again. He had considered following through with the proposed bill and wondered, if passed, would there be an effect on the caseload at the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Agosti said the caseload of the Nevada Supreme Court rose and then leveled off in a cycle; each time it ended at a higher level. The statistics and caseload were currently leveled off; the Court had been able to work through the existing backlog. Approximately 1,300 cases were on the docket; of those, most were not ready for decision. About 500 cases were ready to be filed, and that was standard. The Chief Justice brought attention to the immediate need for an intermediate appellate court for Nevada. To get such a court, help from the Legislature was needed, and the bill would need to pass in a general election. Voters in the past had been skeptical of the need of an intermediate appellate court for a number of reasons; one was that judges, bar associations and those interested had not put full efforts into educating the public why an appellate court would be helpful and good. Chief Justice Agosti felt that the Legislature should not pursue the second vote; the first vote passed last session because of the huge financial crisis facing the state. It would cost money to start up and fund a new court, which would guarantee defeat. The bill Chairman Anderson was holding onto required the Legislature to establish an intermediate appellate court. The bill she proposed to replace that bill would permit the Legislature, rather than require them, to establish an intermediate appellate court, and leave it up to the wisdom of the Legislature to know when the caseload required and the finances permitted the establishment of the intermediate appellate Court. With these changes, the public could be educated on the efforts required to bring a case to decision by an appellate body.
Chairman Anderson said he would speak with the Chairman of the Constitutional Amendments Committee and get his view on how to proceed with the second part of the Chief Justice’s testimony, since some action had already been taken.
The Chief Justice said she desired a strong Judicial Branch of government and worried about the timing of a public vote that would deliver a defeat. It would take too many years to recover from and when the appellate court was needed it would not be available. Chairman Anderson agreed that was why the number of judges needed to be increased so courts would be efficient to best serve the public. He believed that an informed public would be very supportive.
Assemblyman Carpenter asked about the progress being made with rural courts. Mr. Titus answered that there was a commission on rural courts already established and counseling for defendants was a concern. It was difficult to sentence someone convicted of a DUI to counseling when there were no counselors within a 200-mile radius. The Administrative Office of the Court might consider providing a “roving” or circuit-type counselor. Also very important were juvenile issues, providing staff for large criminal cases, and strained budgets. He cited three prospective questions: what could rural counties do to help themselves, could legislation be changed to ease some of the issues rural counties face, and where could additional funding come from. Judge Griffin was chairing the commission with many other professionals that made a diverse recommending body.
Assemblyman Sherer asked about the overall collection rate for fines. Chief Justice Agosti asked if he wanted information on misdemeanants or felons; Mr. Sherer said both. She did not know if there were any existing statistics. She focused mostly on the district courts and said the Division of Parole and Probation might have some statistics on the felons. She then referred the question about misdemeanants to Mr. Titus. Chairman Anderson interjected that the Committee would hear from Parole and Probation tomorrow. Mr. Titus said that the audit report showed an 81 percent collection rate; he was not sure if those were full or partial amounts remitted. The new case management system being implemented would address that, along with DUI cases being tracked, to show that defendants were being charged in other courts. Chairman Anderson said it was a legislative and statistical problem for the AOC and Central Criminal Repository.
Mr. Horne asked the Chief Justice if administrative assessment fees were collected from people who were incarcerated. She answered that the order of payment would be part of the judgment. The prison system received the judgment and could take the administrative assessment. The courts could divide it up however they needed to, but she did not think the prison system as a matter of course enforced that portion of the order; they usually calculated time spent, parole dates, and collecting money that pertained to them specifically, such as room and board. They would not give much priority to collecting the administrative assessment. District judges did not have jurisdiction over that process, and another mechanism would need to be in place.
Chairman Anderson thanked Chief Justice Agosti for her presentation. He was pleased by how the Administrative Office of the Court was always supportive. Chief Justice Agosti encouraged all freshman legislators to come tour and learn more about the Supreme Court. She appreciated the level of courtesy extended to her from the Committee and added that she was pleased and eager to be a resource to all the members.
Chairman Anderson welcomed Mr. Howard Skolnik, Assistant Director of Industrial Programs, Nevada Department of Corrections, who had returned to finish his presentation (Exhibit E) from the day before. Mr. Skolnik spoke about Silver State Industries. The program was structured to supervise all manufacturing, service, and agricultural prison industries throughout the state. There was a self-supporting division that generated revenue for the General Fund through room and board payments taken from inmate wages. Many inmates earned minimum wage or better due to involvement in the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) supported by the United States Department of Justice. The PIECP authorized Silver State Industries to enter into interstate commerce, which was otherwise banned for prison-made goods. The program had been in existence since 1986 and had expanded dramatically under the tenure of Director Jackie Crawford.
Mr. Skolnik said he was proud that Silver State Industries was the sixth state prison industry program in the United States to become accredited by the American Correctional Association, because of the efforts of Suzanne Pardee, the new accreditation manager, who assured that all operations would comply with seventy-three standards set forth by the American Correction Association. Auditors found a tremendous level of commitment from inmates to meet the standards. Mr. Skolnik outlined current operations:
Mr. Skolnik said the growth over the past two years had been substantial, with an 89 percent increase in the number of inmates working. He anticipated that growth to continue with the proposed building project at High Desert Prison. Inmates had three deductions taken out of their pay: a 24.5 percent deduction for room and board that went to the General Fund; a 5 percent deduction that went to a victim’s fund administered by the Office of the Attorney General; and a 5 percent deduction that went to a fund for the expansion of new industry programs. At Southern Desert Correctional Center, ground had been broken for a 20,000-square-foot building that would house a semi-truck rebuilding and restoration operation. The High Desert facility was also negotiating for its own semi-truck trailer rebuilding facility. The expansion did not come without cost, Mr. Skolnik explained. In the last half of the last fiscal year, the program had suffered its first and only non-profitable period since 1987 when the current operation had begun.
Chairman Anderson declared he always looked forward to touring the auto and wood shops whenever he was in southern Nevada, and he was pleased to note the expansion of the program. He asked Mr. Skolnik if he was correct about Silver State Industries not being allowed to compete directly with private industry. Mr. Skolnik clarified that, according to statute, the program had to have minimal impact on Nevada businesses and that Silver State Industries tried hard to partner with and work with area firms. He felt very strongly that work was essential for successful inmate reintegration after release.
Chairman Anderson asked if there was a demand for the services of the inmates upon parole. Mr. Skolnik answered that there was because of the partnerships that had been developed and having had sold products to most of the major properties in Nevada, there was a familiarity with the quality of work. An investment had already been made in training the inmates so they were hired when released.
Mr. Mortenson related that when he owned and operated a cable installation business in southern Nevada he had done some work at the correctional facility. He found the inmates to be very complacent and that they seemed to run the prison since they had been there longer than the guards, although he was impressed with the facility in general. Mr. Skolnik explained that now there was more control from the staff and less from the inmates.
Ms. Dorothy Nash Holmes, Program Administrator, Nevada Department of Corrections, said that some inmates could not be released because they had no place to live. They needed to submit an approved housing plan to the Department of Corrections beforehand. As a result of the Corrections Study Committee (Exhibit E), a partnership had been formed with a nonprofit agency in Las Vegas that would build a transition center, an apartment complex, where released inmates would live during their last few months of incarceration to become acclimated to and established in the community. It was currently being called Casa Grande. About 65 percent of Nevada’s released inmates were released in the Las Vegas area every year. The limited group of inmates that would be housed at Casa Grande was comprised of nonviolent, property, and drug offenders. To be eligible for Casa Grande, inmates must work and pay rent, creating a savings for the state. Parole and probation offices would be on‑site, as would be education and medical services.
Mr. Glen Whorton, Assistant Director of Operations, Nevada Department of Corrections, believed development of the program was essential. He said over 4,000 people would be released into the community this year. Twenty‑six percent would probably remain in the Las Vegas area. Mr. Whorton emphasized preventing the “creation of more victims,” a legitimate responsibility for the state criminal justice system. He saw no risk in helping inmates to be successful after release.
Chairman Anderson noted that Mr. Whorton’s testimony went too quickly, and that he had most likely left something out. Mr. Whorton said he could address the Committee at later date to further discuss the 200-bed medical division that would be developed by a private nonprofit to be manned with correctional staff, and which was slated to open in October of 2003.
Mr. Charles H. Schardin, Chief of Medical Fiscal Services, Nevada Department of Corrections, briefly reviewed the accomplishments of the medical division:
An upcoming goal for the Department of Corrections was to institute a mail‑order pharmacy program. At the mental health unit at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, acute care had been consolidated at the regional medical facility. The benefits for acute patients were consistent evaluations and treatment. Mental health in-patient treatment would remain with the medical division; the outpatient treatment would fall under the proposed new programs division.
Chairman Anderson thanked Mr. Schardin for his presentation. Ms. Nash Holmes added she would be able to give more information to the Committee in writing if desired. Chairman Anderson replied that if Committee members had questions after reviewing the compact discs (CD) that had been provided yesterday, a meeting could be scheduled. He felt the PowerPoint presentation on CD was an excellent resource.
Assembly Bill 38: Ratifies technical corrections made to NRS and Statutes of Nevada. (BDR S-1027)
Chairman Anderson assigned Mr. Horne and Mr. Geddes a research project on behalf of the Committee to review and summarize, with help from the Legal Division, A.B. 38, familiarly known as “The Bill Reviser’s Bill,” which was 425 pages in length. He asked Mr. Brown to review the minutes of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary before they were finalized, along with himself and Vice Chairman Oceguera. He added that if a Committee member wanted his or her own copy of the minute books, one would be provided, although he strongly urged against it. Chairman Anderson reminded members to get their judiciary bills introduced as soon as possible because time would run out.
Chairman Anderson adjourned the meeting at 11:12 p.m.
Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, Chairman