Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/01/2004 09:07 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 255(STA)                                                                                            
     "An Act relating to traffic preemption devices."                                                                           
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair Wilken  explained that this legislation "would  reserve the                                                            
use of traffic preemption  devices for legitimate, authorized users"                                                            
including emergency  response providers, road maintenance  vehicles,                                                            
and public transit vehicles.                                                                                                    
DENNIS  MICHEL,  Staff  to  Senator  Gene  Therriault,   the  bill's                                                            
sponsor,  stated that  there  is concern  that continuing  to  allow                                                            
widespread  possession of  traffic preemptive  devices might  pose a                                                            
problem in that  people could use these devices to  "disrupt traffic                                                            
flow  and create  dangerous situations"  at  traffic intersections.                                                             
Currently possession  of these devices,  which can be purchased  via                                                            
the  Internet,  is  legal.  At the  request  of  the  Department  of                                                            
Transportation  and Public  Facilities, the  original bill  language                                                            
that  limited  the authorized  use  of these  devices  to  emergency                                                            
vehicles, was  expanded to include municipal transit  buses and road                                                            
maintenance  vehicles   such  as  snowplows.  These   vehicles  were                                                            
requested for  inclusion as repetitive stop and start  actions has a                                                            
negative  affect on them.  In addition, inclusion  of this  language                                                            
would assist the Department  of Transportation and Public Facilities                                                            
in the  requirement that  Anchorage roads must  be cleared  within a                                                            
24-hour period after a snowstorm.                                                                                               
Co-Chair Wilken clarified  that CS SB 255(STA), Version 23-LS1397\Q,                                                            
is before the Committee.                                                                                                        
Senator Dyson  communicated that the  community of Eagle  River must                                                            
also have  it roads cleared  within 24 hours.  Continuing,  he asked                                                            
for confirmation that when  the device is activated, traffic signals                                                            
must cycle  through the yellow  phase before  the signal changes  to                                                            
Mr. Michel affirmed that  opposing traffic would experience the full                                                            
green to yellow to red signal cycle.                                                                                            
Senator  Dyson  surmised   that  due  to  the  fact  that  snowplows                                                            
typically  clear roads at  night when there  is low volume  traffic,                                                            
utilization of the device  would enhance operations by allowing them                                                            
to avoid waiting for lights.                                                                                                    
Mr.  Michel affirmed,  but  pointed  out  that transit  buses  might                                                            
utilize the  device during  high traffic times  in order to  stay on                                                            
Senator  Dyson  voiced  being  unconvinced  that  the  inclusion  of                                                            
transit buses in this legislation is necessary.                                                                                 
Senator  Bunde  noted that  in  his  community,  snowplow  employees                                                            
retain their  jobs based on their  ability to perform their  jobs in                                                            
an allotted time.                                                                                                               
Senator Olson  expressed that one positive element  about synergized                                                            
road signals,  is that they often  allow for a traffic pattern  at a                                                            
certain  speed  to be  maintained.  Therefore,  he asked  how  these                                                            
devices would affect that synchronicity.                                                                                        
Mr. Michel  responded that  the use of these  devices in regards  to                                                            
transit  buses would  be  a coordinated  effort  in  that a  central                                                            
monitoring station  (CMS), as opposed to the individual  bus driver,                                                            
would  control  the  utilization  of  the  devices.  The  CMS  would                                                            
determine whether  utilization of  the device would be necessary  to                                                            
keep buses on schedule.  In addition, the intent of the Municipality                                                            
of  Anchorage  transit authority  is  to  implement a  bus  corridor                                                            
system in which  "the lights would  preempt a series of lights  down                                                            
the road" in order to continue a traffic flow.                                                                                  
Senator Olson  asked for confirmation that emergency  vehicles would                                                            
be able to individually manage their traffic preemptive devices.                                                                
Mr. Michel affirmed that that would be the case.                                                                                
In response to  a question from Senator Olson, Mr.  Michel clarified                                                            
that while  each bus would  be equipped with  an individual  device,                                                            
they could  not be activated  on an individual  basis in the  manner                                                            
that the fire department or other emergency vehicles could.                                                                     
Co-Chair Wilken  reiterated that the inclusion of  transit buses was                                                            
incorporated  into Senate  State Affairs  Committee  version of  the                                                            
Senator Hoffman inquired to the cost of the device.                                                                             
Mr.  Michel  responded   that  the  cost  of  an  official   traffic                                                            
preemptive device  is approximately $1,000; however,  no fiscal note                                                            
accompanies  the bill  in this regard  as the  devices have  already                                                            
been purchased.  However, the personal  use devices being  addressed                                                            
by this  legislation are  available  on the Internet  for as  low as                                                            
Senator  Hoffman  asked  regarding  the  penalties  and enforcement                                                             
efforts that would be enacted by this legislation.                                                                              
Mr. Michel  responded that enforcement  of the possession  or use of                                                            
this device in  a vehicle would be fairly easy as  the device, which                                                            
is contained  in a seven  by five inch box,  must be located  on the                                                            
dashboard  or  other visible  location  in  a  vehicle in  order  to                                                            
properly work.                                                                                                                  
Co-Chair Wilken noted that  the penalty for unlawfully possessing or                                                            
owning  one of  these devices  would  be a  Class  A misdemeanor  as                                                            
specified  in Section 1,  subsection (d) on  page two, lines  11 and                                                            
Co-Chair  Green  inquired  as to  whether  the word  "possesses"  is                                                            
necessary to this legislation,  as it would be "troublesome" were it                                                            
to apply to someone who might possess the device in their home.                                                                 
Co-Chair Wilken asked therefore  whether further clarification as to                                                            
"where the possession occurs" should be considered.                                                                             
Co-Chair  Green  opined  that "simple  possession"  of  this  device                                                            
should  not make a  person eligible  for a Class  A misdemeanor,  as                                                            
there  is  a  difference  in  the fact  that  someone  might  be  in                                                            
possession of  such as device as opposed to utilizing  the device to                                                            
affect traffic.                                                                                                                 
Co-Chair Wilken understood  therefore that possessing this device in                                                            
the  trunk  of a  car,  for  instance,  should be  exempt  from  the                                                            
Co-Chair Green  affirmed. Possession of it in a home  should also be                                                            
Senator Dyson agreed. He  suggested that the word "or" in Section 1,                                                            
subsection (a)  on page one, lines five, six, and  seven be replaced                                                            
with the word  "and" in order to clarify  that "possession  and use"                                                            
of  the device  would  be considered  a  crime,  as opposed  to  the                                                            
current language  that would  make it illegal  to either possess  or                                                            
use the device.                                                                                                                 
Co-Chair Green  stated that the language  in question is  located in                                                            
numerous  areas of  the bill  and therefore  further  review of  the                                                            
language should be conducted before further action ensues.                                                                      
Co-Chair  Wilken  agreed   and  stated  that  this  issue  would  be                                                            
addressed via a forthcoming committee substitute.                                                                               
Senator  Dyson reiterated  his  concern regarding  allowing  transit                                                            
buses to utilize the device.                                                                                                    
Senator  Dyson voiced,  for the  record,  that the  definition  of a                                                            
"traffic  exemption device"  as explained  in Section 1,  subsection                                                            
(c)(2) page  two, beginning  on line seven  "is tight enough"  as to                                                            
not defeat the ability  of law enforcement officers to utilize photo                                                            
radar  nor  preclude  someone  from utilizing  a  device  to  defeat                                                            
traffic or photo radar.                                                                                                         
Mr. Michel stated that is correct.                                                                                              
Senator Bunde  suggested that an amendment be considered  that would                                                            
delete the words "or public  transit that has been authorized by the                                                            
Department   of   Transportation   and   Public  Facilities   or   a                                                            
municipality"  in the bill as denoted  in Section 1, subsection  (a)                                                            
(2)  on page  one, beginning  on  line 13  that currently  reads  as                                                            
     (2)  a person  operating a  motor vehicle  involved in  highway                                                            
     maintenance  or public transit that has been  authorized by the                                                            
     Department  of  Transportation   and  Public  Facilities  or  a                                                            
     municipality to possess or use a traffic preemptive device.                                                                
Co-Chair Wilken  ascertained that  Senator Bunde is suggesting  that                                                            
the language included in the original bill be considered.                                                                       
Senator  Bunde  affirmed.  There  is  particular  concern  that  the                                                            
inclusion of this  language would enhance efforts  to further expand                                                            
public  transportation  endeavors in  the Anchorage  area which,  he                                                            
declared is "a very expensive and subsidized operation."                                                                        
Co-Chair  Wilken   asked  that  the   bill's  sponsor  contact   the                                                            
Municipality  of  Anchorage  and  ask  how  this  would  affect  the                                                            
Anchorage public transportation system.                                                                                         
Senator  Dyson  asked that  representatives  of  Anchorage's  public                                                            
transportation  system be available during the next  hearing on this                                                            
Co-Chair  Wilken  agreed that  testimony  in  this regard  would  be                                                            
required   in  order  to   retain  public   transportation   in  the                                                            
Senator Olson  asked whether any consideration has  been provided to                                                            
including physicians in the authorized use list.                                                                                
Co-Chair Wilken  stated that their inclusion would  be under review.                                                            
AL STOREY, Lieutenant,  Alaska State Troopers, Department  of Public                                                            
Safety, testified via teleconference  from an offnet site and stated                                                            
that the Department  of Public Safety  considers this to  be a "good                                                            
bill"  as it  would assist  public  safety employees  and  emergency                                                            
vehicles "in getting to  where they need to be in a timely fashion."                                                            
"Widespread  chaos" would  erupt were  private  citizens allowed  to                                                            
utilize these devices.                                                                                                          
MIKE TILLY,  Assistant Fire  Chief, City  of Kenai Fire Department,                                                             
testified  via teleconference  from  Kenai,  and spoke  in favor  of                                                            
bill. The  key to the  use of these  devices is  to have a safe  and                                                            
efficient response  of emergency vehicles to their  destination. The                                                            
availability  of  these  devices  to  private  citizens  "is  rather                                                            
frightening"  in that  a competition  between  private citizens  and                                                            
emergency responders  to control intersections could  result. Proper                                                            
use of these devices would  allow authorized responders safe passage                                                            
through intersections.                                                                                                          
Mr.  Michel,  responding  to  Co-Chair  Green's  concerns  regarding                                                            
"possession and use" of  the device, informed that the Department of                                                            
Law has reviewed  the bill's language  and determined that  in order                                                            
to prosecute someone,  "use alone would be very hard  to prove" as a                                                            
police officer  would, in that case,  be required to actually  watch                                                            
someone activate  the device  and change a  light. He stressed  that                                                            
there  is no  other use  for the  device than  to  change lights.  A                                                            
person could  stand beside an intersection  and control the  signal.                                                            
Co-Chair  Wilken  asked  that  a Department  of  Law  memorandum  be                                                            
provided in this regard.                                                                                                        
Co-Chair  Wilken ordered  the  bill HELD  in Committee  to order  to                                                            
address concerns and develop a committee substitute.                                                                            

Document Name Date/Time Subjects