Panel improves cell-phone driving bill

100_0285Oregon's Senate president, Peter Courtney, filed a bill that threatened to fine cell-phoning drivers up to $1,000. This would be accomplished by upgrading the offense -- using a hand-held cell phone while driving -- from a Class D to a Class B traffic violation. I'm glad to report that the Senate Judiciary Committee has improved the bill, Senate Bill 9.

On March 5 all five committee members, including Republican Betsy Close of Albany, voted to apply the stiffer penalty only to driving while using a hand-held cell phone to send or receive text messages.

The underlying law, though, banning hand-held cell phone use while driving, remains a problem. It exempts drivers of farm and emergency vehicles, as well as tow trucks. They can safely drive while phoning and the rest of us can't? Amazingly, it also exempts amateur radio operators and people talking on CB radios. It's really hard to believe that somebody talking with a phone to his ear is more of safety risk in traffic than drivers talking into a radio microphone while chatting with the outside world. And of course, drivers under the law can talk and listen all they want on hands-free cell phones.

In order to text, most people have to take their eyes off the road, so the harsh fine for texting makes sense to me. The rest of the law does not. (hh)

The TSA and pocket knives

Now that the Transportation Security Administration will allow airline passsengers to keep their small pocket knives, maybe other federal agencies will see the light as well. The TSA decision aroused the ire of unions representing airline workers as well as family members of people killed on 9/11. Their chagrin is understandable, but still the TSA made the right call.
Critics of the decision said small knives can be just as deadly as box cutters, which remain banned on planes. But other precautions are in place now, including air marshals on board and flight deck doors that are locked. Even with box cutters, it's highly unlikely terrorists would be able to replicate mass murder.
If the security of airliners and their passengers depended on the elimination of everything that could be used as a weapon, then we haven't gone nearly far enough. They still allow ballpoint pens, don't they? How about all those in-flight magazines? Rolled up, they can become deadly weapons in the hands of a trained assassin.
As for other agencies, I remember that Shasta Dam in California bans pocket knives from its tours. Maybe it too will now relent. As for air transportation, I can understand the feelings of the critics of the decision to allow small pocket knives. But if you've carried one all your life as a matter of everyday routine because it is such a useful and necessary tool, taking a flight will soon be less upsetting to you, because you won't have to give it up. (hh)

Rand Paul’s simple question

C-SPAN 2 covered the filibuster live.

C-SPAN 2 covered the filibuster live.

C-SPAN 2 covered the filibuster live.

The question Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky asked during his filibuster in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday may have seemed absurd. Does the Obama administration believe it has the power under the Constitution to use a drone strike to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil who is not an imminent threat to the country? The question seems absurd because the anser is obvious: No, the president has no such power. So why didn't the president give that answer?

Like other presidents, Obama may be reluctant to acknowledge any limits to what he can do under certain circumstances. But what Paul said he wanted to know was whether drone strikes could be used against non-combatant enemies of the United States in this country. The administration's white paper on this subject talked about imminent threats, but it was not completely unambiguous on the point Rand was raising. Of course there is no lawful or constitutional way for the federal government to order military air strikes in this country against anyone unless they are engaged in a current attack against Americans, as in the case of the fourth plane on 9/11, a case cited by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. So it should have been easy for Obama to give Rand the answer he wanted. His long silence is hard to understand. (hh)

From Lori Rutledge, via Facebook: The question must be too simple for the Prez.  I'm guessing when this is over he will again, blame the Republicans.  He could have ended this hours ago.

Why the daytime lighting?

Remember that North Albany park-and-ride lot the city of Albany recently completed? It's being used, and it also just got 10 stylish new light fixtures. They look impressive, but I'm wondering why they remain lighted throughout the day. (Councilman Ray Kopczynski found the answer from Public Works and let me know Thursday morning:  "Because Park and Ride is built using ODOT specs and contract language, the lamps are required to be on 24 hrs/day for 7 days. This is a required 'burn' under the ODOT specs. They’ll switch over to photocell control after the test period.")

Ray Kopczynski

Bike fee? It’s not practical

bikes_parked2_modWhat would be wrong with the state charging bicyclists a fee for the use of public roads? After all, the state charges plenty in connection with cars and trucks.

Because bikes are thought to get a free ride, there's long been tension on Oregon roads between motor traffic and bicycles, which also count as vehicles under the law. Some motorists resent the presence of bike riders because sometimes they have to wait a few seconds to go around them in traffic. And then there are all those bike lanes and paths paid for with highway funds from the gas tax and vehicle registrations. Why should bike riders get to use those faclities for free?

Now state Sen. Larry George, a Republican from Sherwood, has proposed a bill to impose a $10 annual registration fee on bikes used on public roads, with a $25 fine for not signing up and paying the fee. The revenue would be used for bike facilities. Well, why not?

I'll tell you why not. Most adults riding bicycles also own and drive cars, so with their registration and license fees they already do pay into the highway fund. Homeless and other poor people riding bikes out of necessity don't need the additional hassle of an annual fee.

Oregon has had the bike bill since 1971. It was authored by a Republican, by the way, the late Donald L. Stathos of Medford. It generally requires at least 1 percent of highway project costs to be spent on bikeways and such. And it's worked well for more than 40 years, so in the interest of keeping things simple, there's no reason to complicate matters with a law on mandatory bike registrations and fees. (hh)

Gene Frazzini, via Facebook: Yes, the bill is impractical and should not be implemented. However: 1) I don't resent bike riders because they slow me down; I resent them for running red lights and cutting in front of my car. 2) You state that since I own a car and pay into the highway fund, I shouldn't have to pay again for my bicycle. If that's the case, I shouldn't have to pay again for my pick-up truck. 3) You say poor people riding bikes out of necessity shouldn't have to pay an annual fee. Are you saying poor people who must drive cars to get to work should not have to pay registration and license fees? Again, I agree that this is a bad bill but not for the reasons you mention. It is a bad bill because it would not bring in enough revenue to even begin to cover the cost to enforce it.

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