A police officer is using a handheld RADAR gun to target a vehicle coming off a bridge. The speed is 39 MPH, in a 25 MPH zone making this driver lucky they weren’t pulled over and issued a citation (Gettty Images)
The silence is deafening.
Last March, the state House Transportation Committee approved a measure allowing local police to use radar guns by a 25-0 vote. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country with such a prohibition.
Without radar guns, local police have to resort to speed traps, which are more timely and costly.
The bill has been debated in Harrisburg numerous times over the years. The state Senate approved the bill in 2017 by a 46-3 vote and in 2019 by a 46-3 tally. Approval was expected in the state Senate this year, but the bill has never made it there.
The measure hasn’t come up for a vote before the state House of Representatives, and one doesn’t seem likely, at least for this year.
Last spring, Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that “conversations about the bill are continuing in the caucus, and the bill is still being vetted.”
“This is a major change in the law and we just want to be sure all concerns are addressed,” he added. “We want to do our due diligence.”
Gottesman said there was no timetable for a decision, noting it could be “brought up anytime.”
State Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star last spring that he’s optimistic the Legislature will eventually pass the bill.
“I think the more people know about the bill the more likely it is that they’ll support it,” said Rothman, noting he’s been working on the measure for the past five or six years.
“I think there’s more awareness, especially in the suburbs, about what a problem speeding has become,” said Rothman. “We’re trying to act before a child is hit by a speeding car.”
However, neither Gottesman nor Rothman returned calls made by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star to their offices last week asking if there were any updates about the bill.
The issue also never came up in a joint press conference last month organized by Benninghoff and Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, where majority Republicans laid out their legislative agenda for the rest of the year.
They talked about addressing issues relative to the Tropical Storm Ida disaster emergency declaration, regulatory reform stemming from pandemic-related waivers and suspensions, outstanding legislative issues dealing with the opioid epidemic, and asserting local control in public health decisions, according to the Associated Press.
Not a word was said about the radar bill.
Making prospects bleak for its passage is that the Senate and House are only in session for 12 days until the end of 2021. The bill could be voted on anytime in 2022, but that seems improbable as things stand now.
Rural Republican lawmakers have opposed the bill, claiming that local municipalities would use the radar guns to fatten their budgets.
However, the legislation addressed those concerns, limiting municipalities to receiving only $12.50 from speeding tickets.
It had been supported mainly by big-city Democrats, who contended the guns are a common-sense measure that could make local highways safer for both motorists and residents.
It also has gained the support of groups such as the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and the Pennsylvania State Mayors’ Association.
The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the union representing the Pennsylvania State Police members, added its support for the first time..
The backing came after lawmakers amended the bill to allow state police troopers to use radar devices from moving patrol cars.
However, one person who remained optimistic about the bill and was willing to talk about it was state Rep. Mike Carroll, of Luzerne County, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee.
“I’ve always been a supporter of allowing local police to use radar, and I still think it will be passed at some point,” said Carroll.
He noted that while most of those opposed to the bill are Republicans, some urban Democratic lawmakers have concerns that local police could target Black drivers with their radar guns.
But Carroll said he thinks that lawmakers will support the bill as they become more educated about it. He noted that’s probably the main reason why it sailed through the House Transportation Committee.
“Most of the transportation committee members are educated about the issues facing them, and that’s probably why they supported the radar bill,” Carroll said.
Now, he said, it’s a matter of convincing other lawmakers to back the measure. He’s optimistic that the General Assembly will pass the bill at some point, noting that legislation can become stalled but then move due to events that shine a light on a problem.
“Things don’t have to happen just in Harrisburg. Sometimes things can be triggered by events in Aliquippa or Erie,” he added.
However, it’s sad to think that it would take a tragedy for the Legislature to pass this bill.
In the end, while the bill isn’t as crucial as some of the other issues facing the Legislature, it’s still important and could save lives.
Who knows why Republicans aren’t acting on the bill, but the fact they don’t even bring the measure up for a vote despite its widespread bipartisan support is an indictment of GOP leadership. It’s a shame that GOP lawmakers are derailing highway safety for whatever reason.
The silence by GOP leaders is not only deafening. It’s deadly.
Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former editorial page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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