Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tour de Frankfort, Stage 4: exhausted

Today marked another major learning experience. After over a year of trying to get meetings with legal experts regarding the problems of pedestrians and bicyclists struck by motorists, suddenly David Morse and I found ourselves in a room with two key legislators and six of the leading (and most influential) legal minds in Frankfort, to discuss House Bill 88. It quickly became apparent that House Bill 88 is dead for this session. We got new hope, though, of resolving some of the conflicting legal interpretations that have confounded us since the beginning of this campaign.

I still don't know who called the meeting or assembled the invitation list, but Rep. Jim Wayne and Pierce Whites were prominently involved. Pierce Whites serves as general counsel to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, and formerly served as Deputy Attorney General under Stumbo. Also present were House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, a lawyer from Kentucky State Police, the state's Public Defender, and two key staffers of the Legislative Research Commission (both lawyers, one a leading expert in Kentucky criminal law). Obviously, David and I knew less about the law and about the legislative process than the others present.

I'm too exhausted to give a fair accounting of this meeting now, but wanted to give you the capsule update. House Bill 88 is dead for now. The key sticking points are:
  1. the idea that existing laws already cover most or all of the cases of concern to us; and
  2. the belief that reckless driving resulting in collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist is not so grave as domestic violence or DUI, the only two exceptions in the Kentucky law that otherwise requires a law enforcement officer to witness a misdemeanor in order to issue a citation or make an arrest for it. Lacking this gravity, legislators and law enforcement officials do not want to allow police officers to cite crash-causing reckless drivers without witnessing the crash.
This first opinion marks a stark contrast with the repeated statements of Louisville Metro Police Department officials. The panel of lawyers assembled in Frankfort today seemed amazed that we had been told that police and prosecutors had no options to prosecute the drivers who hit Chips Cronen and Cynthia Flowers, for examples.

Rep. Wayne remains committed to our cause. Rep. Tilley agreed to hold a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on the Judiciary this summer to address our concerns. Reps. Wayne and Tilley will invite to testify at least one prosecutor and at least one police official, to gain clarity on the lack of prosecutions of apparently reckless drivers to whom various existing criminal statutes would seem to apply. Perhaps we will decide that the answer lies in educating police officers and prosecutors rather than in changing the law. Perhaps we will decide to pursue a change in the law, but take a different approach than used in HB 88. Perhaps we will decide that HB 88 does exactly what we need, and that we merely need to build and apply a stronger citizen advocacy network to pass it. I'm open to any of these options. You can be sure, though, that Bicycling for Louisville will not abandon the cause: Everyone in Kentucky, especially pedestrians and bicyclists, will benefit from a drastic reduction in reckless and inattentive driving. We will not likely see this drastic reduction without serious real-world penalties for reckless drivers who hit people.


Tex69 said...

Thanks for your tireless efforts. Battling the bureaucracy is a truly monumental task, much less something progressive in such a backwards state.

mybro said...

I am the sister of John Carr who was killed on 8/1/09 in Tom Sawyer park. We are trying to bring some attention to this tragedy with the upcoming hearing and trial of Kenneth Yates. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I can be reached at

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