It may not be the biggest issue this legislative session. But a proposal to allow motorcyclists in Nebraska to proceed through red lights after stopping provided a lesson today in how lawmaking sometimes get down to the fine points.
If you just heard part of what Roger Ites of Omaha told senators on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, you might think he was guilty of impatience. "I was sitting in a left turn lane," Ites said. "There was a straight lane of traffic, and a right lane of traffic. (I was) sitting and sitting and sitting, waiting for the light to change. (I) finally went through, and was cited for an improper turn."
But if you knew that Ites was riding a motorcycle which wasn’t big enough to trip a sensor to change the light, you would understand the reason why some people want the law changed. Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus has introduced a bill that would let vehicles weighing less than 1,200 pounds proceed through red lights if the rider has waited at least two minutes, and there are no other vehicles in the intersection. Twelve hundred pounds is more than a large motorcycle, like a Honda Goldwing or Harley Davidson Electra Glide, but less than a Smart Car.
The Nebraska Sheriffs’ Association opposes the bill. In a letter, Executive Director Amy Prenda raised questions including who would keep track of the two-minute waiting period, and what would happen if an officer saw only the illegal turn, but not the fact that a vehicle had waited two minutes.
The sheriffs’ association suggested the committee could simply change the law to allow someone to challenge a ticket by arguing his or her vehicle was not big enough to trip the sensor.
Schumacher objected to that, saying it would trigger court costs of at least $50 somebody would have to pay. "The county doesn’t want to pay the $50 court cost. And surely since the motorcycle rider was not really in the wrong, he shouldn’t have to pay the $50 cost. And you shouldn’t have to prove yourself innocent," Schumacher said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.
On another issue related to motor vehicles, Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala has proposed the state give interest-free loans to some counties for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges used for livestock hauling. Schilz would restrict those loans to counties designated "livestock friendly" by the state. Some ag groups support the bill. But Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a member of the Agriculture Committee, which heard the bill, called it an "iffy proposition" that would divert money from other priorities.