Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stop... or else!

Earlier this week, I posted a cynical comment about the DC Council's consideration of legislation that would make it unlawful to drive with ice on the car when it does not enforce current laws that are supposed to protect us slipping on ice. At the time, I wondered what the no-driving-with-ice proposal provided as the penalty for a violation, given that there is no consequence for a person or business (or the DC government) when they don't clear the sidewalk from snow and ice, as also required by law.

Since the bill was not available on the Council's Legislative Information System as any legislation should, I could not find the answer. Well, today's Post and Examiner report that there was debate over whether to include a $50 or $100 fine. Ultimately, the Council passed the new law, but stripped any potential penalty. Instead, it empowered the police to issue a warning (can't anyone do that now - "excuse me, it's dangerous to drive around like that?"). At least Councilmember Mendelson is quoted as admitting that the legislation is less a matter of law than a "statement of policy."

Do we need the Council to pass aspirational statements of policy?

I remember a similar debate some months ago when the Council considered an amendment proposed by Councilmember Wells to prohibit vehicles from blocking bike lanes. After a debate errupted as to whether there would be any consequence for a violation beyond that already available for double parking, the bill died (I believe), ultimately passed with a potential $65 fine.

Having laws with no enforcement makes zero sense. In some instances, there is a lack of enforcement because of a lack of funds or lack of priority placed by goverment agencies or MPD. But, as these examples show, in other cases, there is a lack of enforcement simply because the Council passes unenforcable laws... stop, or else!

The Council should consider whether making conduct illegal, but providing no enforcement, has broader ramifications. Does it foster an environment in which people feel that it is ok to break the law so long as the violation is "minor"?

Or do such laws just show lazyness on the part of a Council that wants to appear concerned, but don't actually spend the time doing their homework to draft legislation that works?


David Alpert said...

Wekll's bike lane amendment did set a penalty. In fact, his action corrected the problem you criticize in this post. Blocking a bike lane was previously illegal, but there was no fine. The amendment did pass, and now there is a fine ($65).

The question some Councilmembers raised at the time was whether a driver could receive two tickets at the same time, for double parking and blocking a bike lane, and whether that was fair. (Ultimately, they decided that was okay, because there are many other similar situations, and police usually use their discretion). The other debate revolved around how to decide the correct size of the fine. Wells did some research into other cities' fines, and picked something a little lower than many other cities.

The bill ultimately passed, with a fine. More information here.

David Alpert said...

Oops, that's "Wells' amendment", not "Wekll's".

Cary Silverman said...

Thanks for the correction, David.