Tom Clyde: Utah legislators are providing plenty to keep an eye on
The state legislature is in session. They meet for a very short time each year, compressing all their mischief into a frenzied paper shuffle. The real entertainment comes when individual legislators attempt to cure societal ills based on one conversation with one constituent in the church parking lot. We all know that if it happened once, it must be happening all the time. Laws must be changed to end the abuse.
A bill that should be very popular with Summit County residents would make red lights optional. Under H.B. 416, it would be legal to run a red light when there are no other vehicles around. We’ve all been there — you arrive at a stop light late at night and stop and wait for the light to turn green. And wait, and wait. There isn’t another car in sight. This bill would treat it as a stop sign and if it’s clear, drive through the light. What could possibly go wrong?
There are two stop lights in Kamas. They are important for traffic management on the 4th of July and Labor Day. Otherwise, they are unnecessary. Kamas residents blow through them late at night (which is about 9:00 in Kamas). On the east side of the county, the red lights on S.R. 224 have always been advisory. I’ve watched 20 or 30 cars drive through after the light has turned red. In fact, this new law may be more of a burden to Summit County drivers than a benefit. It actually requires a full stop at the red light before you determine it’s safe to go through it. A full stop. Like that’s going to happen.
In other red light legislation, a bill allowing bicycles to roll through red lights is likely to pass. The logic there is that if the cyclist gets hit by a car, only the cyclist is hurt, where if two cars collide, the innocent occupants of the car with the green light could be injured. So the official policy of the state legislature is that cyclists are expendable. But as a cyclist who rolls through red lights more often than I should, the change will keep me from being branded a scofflaw or criminal.
A bill to create toll roads seems likely to pass. This is aimed mostly at Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, but not limited to them. The idea is that a toll will reduce traffic in the canyons by increasing random skier parking in the neighborhoods at the bottom of the canyon within walking distance of the bus stop. The legislators know this will be unpopular, so they are deferring the decisions on which roads become toll roads, and what the tolls will be, to the bureaucrats at UDOT. That way, the legislators preserve plausible deniability.
This isn’t limited to the Cottonwood Canyons. It’s easy to imagine Park City jumping on this and imposing a toll on S.R. 248 to reduce traffic there. That’ll teach those people who live in Heber and commute to Park City for work. To beat the toll, people could park at the Richardson Flat parking lot and wait for the bus — that doesn’t actually go to the parking lot. If they think the control gates on China Bridge get broken often, just wait to see what happens to a toll booth on S.R. 248.
They are increasing car registration fees by $28 to fund transportation projects. By increasing the registration fee, they can say they didn’t increase taxes. It’s one of those hidden, add-on charges that we all love with the airlines. The flight cost you $500, but technically, the ticket was only $75.
The legislature is likely to ban plastic bag bans. Park City is the only municipality in the state to ban plastic grocery bags. While I always thought our bag ban is the environmental equivalent of setting aside the cherry on top of your double-size hot fudge sundae because you are watching your weight, the local community wanted it. Our legislature doesn’t like any of that green stuff, so they want to bag the ban on bags. The fact that they can poke Park City in the process just sweetens the deal for them.
The most troubling bill is H.B. 136, sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab. This would require any governmental entity, including local governments and advisory committees, to get advance legislative blessing of their opinion before commenting on any proposed federal land designation. So if the Park City planning commission was interested in a possible change in the federal management of some scrap of BLM land within the city limits, they would need to get the blessing of the Legislature before commenting to BLM. In other words, the local government needs to get its opinions approved, or corrected, by the Legislature. It probably won’t pass, but the fact that it ever saw the light of day is alarming.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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