Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Albuquerque considers charging for car crash costs … St Louis County may require landlords to accept housing vouchers … Montana provides student loan aid to young farmers.
Washington D.C. council members are considering a proposal that would allow ordinary citizens to issue parking tickets via an app. A pilot program, called the Citizen Safety Enforcement Pilot Program, would train up to 10 citizens of each ward to take a picture of offending cars and issue a citation. The goal of the pilot is to prevent cars from blocking crosswalks, bike lanes, and bus stops and is a part of a broader “Vision Zero” initiative that aims to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths, which are on the rise in the city. (This past weekend, an SUV crashed into a memorial built for a cycling advocate who was struck and killed by a driver last month.) Council member Charles Allen is the proposal’s sponsor. “If I am trying to cross the street and [your] car is blocking the crosswalk, you have forced me to walk into traffic. That is when accidents happen. We should be acting with a greater sense of urgency and we should be willing to try new things, because what we have been doing hasn’t stopped people from dying,” Allen said. But critics say that the programs put too much power in the hands of civilians. “The idea of vigilante enforcement is a bad idea. Law enforcement is a profession. Have professionals handle it,” D.C. attorney David Tompkins told the Washington Post. Allen's proposal follows the lead of other cities piloting similar initiatives, including New York, which created a program that gives 25% of the fines imposed on idling cars to residents who report them, and Los Angeles, which started a volunteer ticketing program that issued over 9,000 citations last year, the Post reported. [NBC Washington; Washington Post; WTOP]
FIRST RESPONDER COSTS | The mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has proposed a new fee for drivers who cause accidents that require excessive emergency response personnel. For crashes that necessitate hazardous waste material cleanup, cause fires, or require victims to be extracted from a vehicle, the city may now impose fines from $400 to $1,305. State Rep. Bill Rehm objects to the plan. “The whole purpose of government is to take care of its citizens, and this is like ‘Oh, now we’re going to go ahead and bill you over here.’ Jeez,” said Rehm. But City Council Trudy Jones said that targeting the cost is a good idea. “We can either do it that way, where the people who use it pay for it, or we can do it where all the taxpayers pay for it,” she said. [Albuquerque Journal; KRQE]
HOUSING VOUCHERS | A proposal before the St. Louis County Council would add “source of income” to the protected categories list for potential renters, in an effort to ensure that landlords don’t discriminate against those using housing vouchers. Most housing vouchers in the county are used only in a few neighborhoods, which are predominantly black and have high rates of poverty. Some landlords spoke in favor of the proposal, including David Dothage, who accepts vouchers but noted that the process is onerous for landlords. “It is guaranteed income, that’s the positive. And I don’t particularly mind all the paperwork for the trade-off you get. It’s not a simple process for someone who really doesn’t want to do it. I can see that point of view. For me, it’s just worth it,” Dothage said. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, who introduced the proposal, said she understands landlord hesitations around the process. “I don’t dispute that’s an issue and there’s reforms that need to be made on lots of levels. Fortunately there are local resources, nonprofit resources and other things that help to alleviate some of those constraints and burdens on landlords. I think this is an important step in the right direction,” Clancy said. If enacted, St. Louis will follow about a dozen states and more than 50 cities and counties that have enacted similar legislation. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch; St .Louis Public Radio]
STUDENT LOAN ASSISTANCE | A new law in Montana will create a student loan assistance program to pay off up to half the debt of young people who commit to five years of ranching or farming. Rachel Prevost is a senior in college and farmer from Montana, where the average student loan debt is 28,000. "This is a fantastic program that incentivizes returning to farming and ranching for students because it takes away some of the pressures of student loans," Prevost said. Liv Stavick, the Montana Farm Bureau director of state affairs, said such a program is necessary for the future of farming in the state. "High tuition costs and low commodity prices have created the perfect storm in which the decision for young people to return to production agriculture is simply not financially viable straight out of school," Stavick said. [Ag Week; Tri-State Livestock News]
CHILD PORNOGRAPHY | Arrests for child pornography charges are on the rise in Utah, nearly doubling from five years ago. Officials credit the rise not to more frequent occurrences, but to more advanced technology that can detect when people upload and download child pornography. In 2013, 133 people were arrested—but now, Utah's Internet Crimes Against Children task force has already arrested 104 people in the first three months of 2019, according to commander Jessica Farnsworth. "This state is like a candy store for predators. We have a lot of children, and we're friendly, forgiving people here," Farnsworth said. Greg Sorkdas, a Utah defense attorney, said that it is mostly young men who are caught. “People don't realize, if you're sitting in the privacy of your home looking at images, that you could hurt someone. But the penalties are serious, and it screws up your life,” Skordas said. [Deseret News; The Salt Lake Tribune]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.