Wednesday, July 30, 2014
US Senate Rejects Diminished Federal Transportation Role
The US Senate on Tuesday voted 79 to 18 to pass a modified version of the stop-gap measure providing funding for federal transportation projects that cleared the House earlier this month. The upper chamber rejected a plan offered by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) with a 28 to 69 vote that would have phased out the system where gas tax funds collected at the state level are sent to Washington and then redistributed to the states with strings attached. "This amendment is the end of the federal highway system," Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-California) said. "The states oppose it... It would result in an immediate eighty percent cut to our states." Lee's Transportation Empowerment Act would have reduced the federal gasoline tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over the course of five years. The amount of funding sent from the US Department of Transportation to each state would also diminish accordingly. After the year 2020, the smaller federal gasoline tax would be used to maintain the interstate highway system and a more modest US Department of Transportation with the states freed to raise and spend money to meet their own local needs. "Our federal highway status quo is not working, and it hasn't been working for a long time," Lee explained. "This debate is itself the dysfunction of Washington, DC... We're here with the duct tape and WD-40 trying to keep this 20th century bureaucracy in place rather than embracing the worthy challenge of building a new mobility policy, one that's well suited for the 21st century." Lee argues that there is no need to have the federal government serve as the central coordinator now that the interstate highway system is complete. The idea behind the amendment is to eliminate the federal government's tendency to impose the same policy solutions on every state. "More environmentally conscious states could finally have the flexibility to invest in green projects and bike lanes," Lee said. "Regions reaping the benefits of America's energy renaissance could accelerate their own infrastructure and their own build-outs to keep up with their explosive growth. Dense cities could invest in more sustainable public transit networks. Meanwhile, surrounding counties could reopen the frontiers of the suburbs." Lee argues that the elimination of the federal middleman would mean more money would be available for projects, especially after federal strings that raise labor and design costs are eliminated. The House version of the Transportation Empowerment Act is sponsored by Representative Tom Graves (R-Georgia), a copy of which is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: HR 3486 (US House of Representatives, 7/30/2014)
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Illinois: Chicago Red Light Camera Spotlight Expands
The world's largest municipal red light camera, beset by a $2 million bribery scandal, is facing renewed scrutiny from the public and investigators. On Friday, the inspector general for the city of Chicago, Illinois announced a formal inquiry into the photo ticketing program in the wake of blockbuster reporting from the Chicago Tribune newspaper. "Once again, the city's red light camera program is in the spotlight, and again it's not something beneficial to drivers," Chicago Alderman Scott Waguespack explained in an email to constituents. "This time there were problems caused by 'faulty equipment, human tinkering or both' and thousands of drivers were wrongly fined by the city for red light camera 'violations.'" According to the Tribune's analysis of all of the photo tickets issued since 2007, at least 9000 citations were issued during "random" spikes related to either overly short yellow signal times, a change to the way right-turn on red is enforced or other system faults. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said he would allow the motorists who received these tickets to file a new challenge. The mayor and aldermen sent separate requests to city Inspector General Joseph M. Ferguson asking for a formal investigation. "OIG will publicly report the findings from its review of past activities, along with any recommendations for how the city, working with the new vendor, can assure the program operates effectively and fairly in the future," the inspector general's announcement stated. "If the review reveals any indication of purposeful manipulation or unlawful conduct, OIG will take action to investigate and will work with the appropriate prosecutorial authorities." Last year, the inspector general issued a report finding no evidence that the red light camera program had done anything to improve safety in the Windy City (view report). Ferguson promised that this review would be "unconditional" looking into all areas of public concern. Public concern is growing. On Friday, volunteers with the group Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras will meet to discuss plans for the weeks ahead. The group has been holding weekly protest throughout the city demanding removal of the automated ticketing machines.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Washington Court: DUI Blood Sample Test Requires Warrant
Police in Washington state may not skip the constitutional requirement to obtain a warrant before sending a blood sample from a drunk driving suspect to a lab for analysis. The state Court of Appeals last week came to the conclusion in the case of Jose Figeroa Martines, who crashed his SUV on State Route 167 on June 20, 2012. Washington State Trooper Dennis Tardiff arrested Martines because he had been seen driving out of control prior to the crash, and he smelled of alcohol. Trooper Tardiff obtained a warrant to extract a blood sample, but the warrant did not say anything about testing. The sample was tested anyway, and Martines had a blood alcohol content of .12 along with the presence of Valium. Because of a prior conviction, Martines was charged with felony driving under the influence (DUI). Martines appealed on the grounds that there was no reasonable suspicion to test his blood for the presence of drugs. The three-judge appellate panel went a step further and said it should not have been tested for anything at all without a warrant. State prosecutors insisted that blood is an item, no different from a piece of clothing, that is "seized," and once the state has it legally, it can test it at any time. The three-judge panel rejected the idea that blood is just an ordinary item. "Blood is not like a voice or a face or handwriting or fingerprints or shoes," Judge Mary Kay Becker wrote for the panel. "The personal information contained in blood is hidden and highly sensitive. Testing of a blood sample can reveal not only evidence of intoxication, but also evidence of disease, pregnancy, and genetic family relationships or lack thereof, conditions that the court in Skinner referred to as 'private medical facts.'" Because blood is different, the court held, a warrant is required before it can be "searched" just as a warrant is needed for it to be "seized." The judges explained that the warrant requirement limits a police officer's discretion and protects the driver's privacy from an unrelated fishing expedition. "Where the state has probable cause to suspect driving under the influence, the requirement to obtain a particularized warrant for blood testing will prevent the state from rummaging among the various items of information contained in a blood sample for evidence unrelated to drunk driving," Judge Becker wrote. "For example, when a blood sample is obtained in the course of investigating driving under the influence, the state may not -- without further warrant -- use the sample to produce a DNA profile that can be added to government data banks." The court pointed out that it would have been easy for the trooper to ask the judge to include a test as part of the warrant that was issued. The judge would have narrowed the testing to items related to the DUI incident. A copy of the decision is available in a 620k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Washington v. Martines (Court of Appeals, State of Washington, 7/21/2014)
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Ohio, France, Germany: Traffic Cameras Disabled
Vigilantes blew up a speed camera in Ennepe-Ruhr-Kreis, Germany. Der Westen reports that the device on the B226 will not be replaced. In Milan, Italy, peaceful protesters from the Northern League covered up a speed camera with a cardboard box on the Via Enrico Fermi on Monday, La Repubblica Milano reported. A large warning sign read, "Slow Down, Pisapia will fine you," referring to Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia. In Greenwich, Ohio, vigilantes have been twisting the speed camera owned and operated by the for-profit vendor Optotraffic, preventing the devices from generating tickets, the Norwalk Reflector reported. In Normandy, France, vigilantes covered the front of a speed camera with fluorescent yellow and orange paint on Friday, Ouest France reported. The automated ticketing machine had been issuing tickets on the RD579 in Ouilly-le-Vicomte. In Haute-Loire, vigilantes disabled the speed camera on the RD103, according to Le Progres. In Garlan, the speed camera on the D786 was set on fire on Thursday. A similar attack took place on July 7 in Daoulas on the RN165, Le Telegramme reported.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Driving Away From Cop At Window
When Wisconsin police officers knock on the window of a car and motion to roll down the window, the state Supreme Court said in a 5 to 2 ruling that the motorist is free to ignore the cop and drive away. "Although we acknowledge that this is a close case, we conclude that a law enforcement officer's knock on a car window does not by itself constitute a show of authority sufficient to give rise to the belief in a reasonable person that the person is not free to leave," Justice David T. Prosser wrote for the majority. The justices argued in the context of the December 25, 2011 incident in which Grant County Deputy Sheriff Matthew Small knocked on the window of Daniel A. Vogt who was parked with the engine running in the Riverdale Park parking lot the village of Cassville at 2am. It was 37 degrees at the time. Vogt had done nothing illegal, but Deputy Small thought it was suspicious that Vogt was in the parking lot of a park that had closed at 11pm. Deputy Small stopped behind Vogt's car with his headlights on, but his overhead red and blue lights off. He walked up to the car and saw Vogt in the driver's seat and Kimberly Russell in the passenger seat. He testified that he would have let Vogt go had he driven off because he "had nothing to stop him for." Vogt did not drive off, because he thought he could no do so without hitting the deputy. He believed that he had no choice but to comply. Once the window was down, Deputy Small smelled alcohol and noticed Vogt's speech was slurred. This led to Vogt's arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The court's majority argued that the initial interaction was voluntary. "The objective of law enforcement is to protect and serve the community," Justice Prosser wrote. "Accordingly, an officer's interactions with people are not automatically adversarial. A court's 'seizure' inquiry into one of these interactions must examine the totality of the circumstances, seeking to identify the line between an officer's reasonable attempt to have a consensual conversation and a more consequential attempt to detain an individual." Because the deputy did not have his emergency lights activated, the majority believed a reasonable innocent person in the same situation could have driven off while the officer knocked at the window. The majority refused to speculate what would have happened to Vogt had he actually driven away. The dissenting justices said the majority position was absurd. "The world of legal decisions does not reflect the real world," Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson wrote. "No reasonable person I can imagine would feel free to drive away under the circumstances of the present case when the officer knocked on the car window and instructed the person to roll down the car window. A reasonable person would be concerned that driving away could be viewed as violating some law that governs obstructing an officer, disobeying an officer, or fleeing." A copy of the decision is available in a 270k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Grant County v. Vogt (Wisconsin Supreme Court, 7/18/2014)