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Another day, additional wackiness from LA Legislature

The Louisiana Legislature – more specifically, the House’s Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee – gave us a good example of the craziness that the legislative process can produce Monday.

The Committee spent over an hour debating HB 407 which started as a bill to prohibit the use of cell phones for drivers of public/commercial transportation. Gradually it got whittled down by allowing all hands-free devices (for example, modules in ears that could be turned on or off by the flick of a finger) and attempted exemptions. Eventually, it foundered over the question of Councils on Agings’ van drivers using cell phones and whether mandating the law would put an intolerable financial burden on them (despite the fact that Blackberry-capable headsets sell for under $50).

Then it spent less time and seemed to forget all of this when it passed HB 822 which would forbid cell phone use unless in the hands-free mode or in “emergency” situations. While this bill has great intentions, it likely overreaches on both grounds of necessity and in enforcement.

While it’s true some people drive much more idiotically when holding up and talking on a cell phone – driving well below speed limits, making rude lane changes and merges, etc. – others don’t inconvenience other drivers. And while statistics in committee were trotted out to show cell phone usage was associated with a couple of thousand accidents in each of the past coupled of years and even a few fatalities, there was no demonstration that they caused those accidents.

Enforcement will be a nightmare, particularly with the exemptions put in. Only inattentive drivers to the presence of police (what is law enforcement going to do, pull up beside a driver holding an animated discussion and flash the lights in the middle of heavy traffic?) will get caught, and the smart ones of them will immediately dial their doctor’s office and claim that was their call.

(Adding to the festivities was committee chairwoman Nita Hutter’s usually pleasant, but sometimes stern, reminders to members about just how to properly conduct business – all but four members of the committee are freshmen – as well as some of the stumbling as a result of that, such as with Dorothy Sue Hill – wife of term-limited ex-Rep. Herman Hill who defeated another ex-senator trying to get back his old House seat last fall – who would refer to the cost estimates produced by the Legislative Fiscal Office as “physical” notes.)
This bill serves as a typical example of some products that come from the Legislature – addressing an issue that really isn’t much of a problem with a solution uncertain really to work. We’ll just have to see if protection of personal autonomy and concerns over enforcement or regulation of obnoxious, perhaps even slightly dangerous behavior takes precedence as the bill moves on – applying even to Council on Aging van drivers.

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