Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/24/2004 01:34 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 387-INCREASE FINE FOR SCHOOL ZONE VIOLATIONS CHAIR HOLM announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 387, "An Act relating to fines for offenses committed within school zones." Number 0083 REPRESENTATIVE CARL GATTO, Alaska State Legislature, speaking as the sponsor, began by relating a quote from an Anchorage Daily News article included in the committee packet, which read as follows: "About 460 drivers were cited for speeding in school zones in 2002, according to the Anchorage Police Department's Annual Statistical Report. But police officials said Thursday they can't catch or deter all the speeders, even when they do stings for days at a time." Therefore, he surmised that [speeding in school zones] isn't an occasional event. The committee packet also contains a letter from the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, which relates the following: "Approximately two-thirds of our 15,000 students walk to school each day." The legislation, he explained, relates to the fines for motor vehicle violations within school zones and it's similar to the double fines for [motor vehicle violations] within highway work zones. He noted that highway work zones often have a flagger who signifies the [beginning of] a highway work zone. He indicated that the flagger coupled with the double fine signage has reduced accidents within highway work zones. This legislation would double the fines for violations in clearly marked school zones. CHAIR HOLM highlighted that there is a zero fiscal note from the Alaska State Troopers of the Department of Public Safety and the Criminal Division of the Department of Law. He related his assumption that these violations would end up in traffic court. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO informed the committee that there is also a zero fiscal note from the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF). He explained that originally, DOT&PF assumed that it would be required to place signs in areas where no signs existed; however, that isn't the intention. The legislation simply intends to reduce the number of speeders in school zones. He commented that some of the worst offenders are high school students. Number 0413 CHAIR HOLM assumed that there would be some cost to troopers, and therefore he asked if the fines would cover that extra cost. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO commented that when a fine is increased so does the potential for a challenge in court rather than the offender merely paying the fine. CHAIR HOLM reminded the sponsor that the legislature has been discussing the graduated drivers' license (GDL) and the inability of young people to obtain a drivers' license if they have an offense such as this. Therefore, he questioned whether there are some unintended consequences. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO highlighted that this legislation merely doubles the fines. CHAIR HOLM recalled that under the GDL legislation a young person cannot have any violations within the last six months in order to progress to the next step. Number 0545 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH surmised that the goal is to stop speeding in neighborhoods. However, he opined that young people don't think about [the dangers or repercussions of reckless activities such as speeding]. Therefore, he questioned whether increasing the fines will stop young people [from speeding]. Representative Stepovich inquired as whether there have been any discussions with regard to signage. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO noted that he has had long conversations with DOT&PF. He also noted that his goal was not to have a fiscal note attached to the legislation. This legislation only applies to school zones that are already signed. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if there was any discussion with regard to law enforcement using speed traps at school zones rather than out on the highway. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out that law enforcement already does [use speed traps at school zones]. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH surmised that the double fines could impact law enforcement and provide an incentive for law enforcement to [be in school zones] in order to obtain the larger fine. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said that it's usually up to the captain to schedule the location of law enforcement. Number 0756 REPRESENTATIVE OGG opined that HB 387 deals with metropolitan areas. He related that he doesn't see a need for this in his area. Furthermore, the speed limits in [the metropolitan areas] are a lot higher and the traffic patterns are different. He mentioned the "cookie cutter program." REPRESENTATIVE GATTO interjected that the aforementioned is why the legislation is limited to marked school zones. He acknowledged that the smaller schools have no need for or desire for signs. REPRESENTATIVE OGG remarked that there are different magnitudes between the urban and rural areas of the state. CHAIR HOLM turned attention to page 2, line 7, which defines "school zone." He asked if it would make more sense to refer to "only an area identified by signs as being near a school." REPRESENTATIVE GATTO indicated that was the intent. Number 0903 REPRESENTATIVE OGG moved that the committee adopt Amendment 1, which would specify on page 2, line 7, that a "'school zone' means only an area identified by signs as being near a school." REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH commented that there are different dangers at different schools. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO informed the committee that he lives on Trunk Road, which he characterized as one of the most dangerous roads in the state and at the end of it is an elementary school. In further response to Representative Stepovich, Representative Gatto indicated that the committee packet should include information regarding what other states do with fines in school zones. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH surmised that the double fines apply while school in session. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO expressed concern with the aforementioned because when the school is in session, the children are in the school rather than when the school is out of session and the children are outside and around the school. However, he acknowledged that schools are used at other times for other functions. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH indicated that the legislation could refer to "when children are present". Number 1068 CHAIR HOLM related that in his area there is a major highway off of which a school sits; the children don't walk on the highway and aren't dropped off on the highway. He said he could understand this legislation in the context of a neighborhood rather than off of a major highway. He noted that it is marked as a school zone and the speed limit drops by 10 miles per hour (mph) to 55 mph. He inquired as to how that would be addressed. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO directed attention to page 1, lines 11-12, which specifies that the double fine applies only during the period when a lower speed limit is in effect. Number 1158 REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING inquired as to the typical fine now. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO informed the committee that in Anchorage the speeding fines for speeds up to 9 mph is $12 per mile, up to 19 mph over is $14, and up to 20 mph or more is $16 per mile plus a reckless driving charge. REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING surmised then that speeding up to 10 mph over the speed limit would result in a $200 fine, which under this legislation would double to $400. He then turned to the sponsor statement and the justification that this legislation will increase public awareness. However, he wasn't sure that would be a justification. He expressed the need to have information illustrating that legislation such as HB 387 would result in a decrease in the number of children and vehicle collisions. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out that currently double fines are implemented in highway work zones. He related his understanding that doubling the fines in highway work zones has decreased the number of collisions in that area. He agreed to obtain that information. He then added that this matter has been addressed by most all states. REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING opined that even with increased fines and penalties for violations, such as for drunk drivers, people continue to drive carelessly and drunk. Therefore, he said he wasn't convinced that increasing fines would do anything more than put more money in the pockets of some bureaucracy and wouldn't make kids safe on the streets. With regard to Trunk Road, the problem is related to the need for infrastructure, which is being addressed. Number 1368 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH commented that the goal of HB 387 is great. However, he opined that the "bad guys" will always will be the "bad guys" and the increased fines will be a burden to the inattentive individuals. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said that when he contemplates introducing legislation, he questions whether it will make a difference. If the legislation will make a difference, then the question becomes how large of a difference will it make. Some would say that saving even one child would be enough of a difference to do this while others may not. Therefore, it's for the committee to determine what constitutes enough. Representative Gatto related his belief that fines do get people's attention and does some good. This legislation, he opined, has value to it. CHAIR HOLM turned attention to the document in the committee packet that specifies the number of school zone citations in 2003. The document specifies that in Anchorage there were 410 such citations as compared to the [next highest] of 26 citations statewide in areas that aren't listed. Therefore, he surmised that this is a problem only in Anchorage. For instance, Fairbanks has one-third of the state's population but only had 10 violations. Number 1588 CODY RICE, Staff to Representative Carl Gatto, Alaska State Legislature, informed the committee that the document in the committee packet was provided by the Alaska State Troopers based on the numbers they have received. He noted that one possibility is that not everyone reports these figures and not everyone codes speed offenses in the same manner. Therefore, there may a fairly good percentage of under-reporting and perhaps an "apples to oranges" comparison. CHAIR HOLM, again turning to the number of school zone violations, asked if a statewide "fix" is required for a regional problem. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO agreed that the results are understated. He related that in discussions with police officers, he has discovered that [law enforcement] doesn't work school zones very much. Furthermore, there seems to be an acceptable threshold for speeding such that if the speed limit is 55 mph, one can drive 64 mph without being stopped. Representative Gatto related his belief that signs for double fines would be a motivator to slow down. Number 1732 REPRESENTATIVE OGG moved that the committee adopt Amendment 1, as follows: Page 2, line 7, following "means": Insert "only the" There being no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. Number 1775 REPRESENTATIVE OGG moved that the committee adopt Conceptual Amendment 2, which would state: "the double fines for school zones applies only in municipalities of populations greater than 200,000 people". CHAIR HOLM objected for discussion purposes. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out that Conceptual Amendment 2 would essentially limit this legislation to only one community in the state, although [the Palmer - Wasilla area] is just like a municipality in terms of traffic. He said this legislation would be valuable to [the Palmer - Wasilla area]. In response to Representative Ogg, Representative Gatto said that the population of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is approximately 60,000. REPRESENTATIVE OGG offered changing Conceptual Amendment 2 to refer to municipalities with populations greater than 60,000. CHAIR HOLM suggested that would be beneficial. He then turned to the situation in the Denali Borough through which a large highway would run. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO commented that there are schools in rural areas. Number 1935 CHAIR HOLM withdrew his objection to Conceptual Amendment 2. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH noted that he was astonished with the number of violations in Anchorage. MR. RICE, in response to Chair Holm's request for better information, informed the committee that the problem is that many of the recording agencies aren't necessarily coding these offenses correctly. REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH expressed concern with regard to having double fines without proper coding. Number 2015 DON SMITH, Administrator, Alaska Highway Safety Office (AHSO), Division of Program Development, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF), informed the committee that [ASHO] has funded a program with the Anchorage Police Department, particularly for traffic enforcement and seat belt use at the Anchorage schools. He remarked that the aforementioned program may account for the high number [of violations] in Anchorage. CHAIR HOLM remarked, "Essentially, not just speeding so it could be other violations like seat belts." MR. SMITH pointed out that in Alaska one can't be stopped for not wearing a seat belt; but if an individual is stopped for speeding and that individual isn't wearing a seat belt, that individual can be cited for not wearing a seat belt. CHAIR HOLM reminded the committee that Conceptual Amendment 2, as amended, remains before it. Conceptual Amendment 2, as amended, would insert the following language: "the double fines for school zones applies only in municipalities of populations greater than 60,000 people". REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH objected, and stated that if this proposal is going to be done it should be done statewide. REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING objected, and stated that he didn't want this to apply to the state at all. A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Ogg and Holm voted in favor of Conceptual Amendment 2, as amended. Representatives Stepovich and Kohring voted against it. Therefore, Conceptual Amendment 2, as amended, failed by a vote of 2-2. CHAIR HOLM announced that this legislation wouldn't be reported from committee today because he wanted to allow the committee members not present today the opportunity to discuss this. Number 2141 REPRESENTATIVE OGG surmised that if this legislation passes, communities with [school] zones would have to post them as double fine [zones]. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO disagreed. The legislation specifies that if the sign [specifying a school zone] exists then "the situation occurs." There is no DOT&PF involvement with this. CHAIR HOLM announced that HB 387 would be held over.