Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/01/2004 09:07 AM Senate FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 Committee. 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 red. 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 schedule. 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 bill. 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 $400. 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 12. 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 penalty. Co-Chair Green affirmed. Possession of it in a home should also be exempt. 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 follows. (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 legislation. Co-Chair Wilken agreed that testimony in this regard would be required in order to retain public transportation in the legislation. 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.