Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Category: Law Page 2 of 27

Virginians – 3 Feet to Pass Needs Your Support

Friends in Virginia – I would consider it a great personal favor if you could take the time to 1) act on this yourself, and 2) pass this along to your friends. We’ve got a real shot at making this happen. It’s not a magic bullet that will make everything better, but it’s a *substantial* step forward in the effort to make roads a safe place for all users.  This isn’t national politics where we are but one of a million voices on an issue – your call or email to a Delegate *will* make a difference.  Just last week a chorus of voices helped bring a critical vote to our side.  We can do it again.

From FABB:

Herndon & Fairfax residents — write to Representatives Rust, Hugo & Comstock about SB 928 (increasing min. passing distance to 3′ for motorists passing bicycles, and adds bicycles to the list of vehicles that a motorist shall not follow more closely than is reasonable). It may be heard in committee as early as tomorrow morning, Feb. 10. See attached [the VBF link below] for easy link for writing to your reps.

From the Virginia Bike Federation:

As we reported yesterday, SB 928, the three feet passing bill, was passedunanimously by the Senate on Monday. It’s now headed to the House, where it must get through committee and then a full House vote.

This bill increases the minimum passing distance from 2′ to 3′ for motorists passing bicycles, and adds bicycles to the list of vehicles that a motorist shall not follow more closely than is reasonable (prohibits aggressive tailgating of bicycles).

It may be heard in committee as early as Thursday morning, Feb. 10; or it could be heard by the full Transportation Committee next Tuesday morning, Feb. 15.

Please write to your delegates now, and ask them to support SB 928 — especially if your delegate is one of the committee members listed below.

The Who’s My Legislator page will tell you who your delegate is.

BikeWalk Virginia has posted an alert too, along with a sample letter.


May, Joe T. /Loudon 804 698-1033

Vice Chair:

Oder, G. Glenn/Newport News — PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT


Carrico, Charles W., Sr. /Galax 804 698-1005

Cosgrove, John A./Chesapeake 804 698-1078

Rust, Thomas Davis/Herndon 804 698-1086

Hugo, Timothy D./Fairfax 804 698-1040 delthugo@house.virginia.gov

Scott, Edward T./Culpeper 804 698-1030

Tata, Robert/VaBeach 804 698-1085 delbtata@house.virginia.gov

Villanueva, Ronald A./VaBeach 804 698-1021

Comstock, Barbara J./Fairfax 804 698-1034

Garrett, T. Scott/Lynchburg 804 698-1023

Cox, John A./Hanover 804 698-1055

Cleaveland, William H./Roanoke 804 698-1017

Habeeb, Gregory D.

Ward, Jeion A./Hampton 804 698-1092

Ebbin, Adam P./Arlington 804 698-1049

BaCote, Mamye E./Newport News 804 698-1095

Brink, Robert H./Arlington 804 698-1048

Toscano, David J./Charlottesville 804 698-1057

McQuinn, Delores L./Richmond 804 698-1070

Carr, Betsy B./Richmond 804 698-1069

Filler-Corn, Eileen/Fairfax 804 698-1041

Creigh Deeds Introduces Reckless Cycling Bill

(Updated below)

Seems that Creigh Deeds has introduced a bill to criminalize reckless cycling.  Here’s the bill:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1.  That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding in Article 12 of Chapter 8 of Title 46.2 a section numbered 46.2-908.1:1 as follows:

§ 46.2-908.1:1. Reckless operation of a bicycle.

Any person who operates a bicycle in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property shall be guilty of reckless cycling. No demerit points shall be awarded by the Commissioner for violations of this section.

Fine, that seems reasonable enough. Except cyclists are already subject to reckless driving penalties, no?  Here’s the existing law which makes cyclists subject to the same laws as drivers:

§ 46.2-800. Riding bicycles, electric personal assistive mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, or mopeds; riding or driving animals.

Every person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, or an animal or driving an animal on a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this chapter and shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle, unless the context of the provision clearly indicates otherwise.

And here’s the current reckless driving statute:

§ 46.2-852. Reckless driving; general rule – Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.

So what necessitates the bill?  I’ll ring his office tomorrow and see if I can get some context.  If anyone has any to offer (crash in his district?), I’d appreciate it.

Update: I spoke to his legislative assistant this afternoon, and she explained that the bill was part of a legislative package that had been requested by Charlottesville.  There was, apparently, a cyclist-caused fatality there last year, and the charge of “reckless cycling” was one of the recommendations of the bike safety task force set up in response to it.   Sen. Deeds office doesn’t view it as anti-cyclist, but as a way to hold cyclist responsible without the full force of a reckless driving charge.  In fact, Sen. Deeds himself replied (via Twitter) that “Idea is control short of reckless driving.”  I’m still not personally certain that this bill is necessary, but I’m comfortable that Sen. Deeds isn’t out to make life harder for cyclists.  I’ll be looking into the origin of the recommendation and update here.

An Act of Genuine Bipartisanship

TechDirt notes that the House is willing to bring back the Judiciary Committee’s IP Subcommittee – which was closed two years ago –  now that a Hollywood-friendly Representative will be chairing it:

[N]ow that the Republicans have retaken control over the House, and after [Virginia Rep.] Rick Boucher lost his re-election campaign, suddenly, magically, the Judiciary Committee has decided to bring the IP subcommittee back to life.

Why?  Well, Rick Boucher has been one of the very few voices in Congress representing the public’s interest in reforming our ridiculous copyright laws, and most of Congress couldn’t be bothered to do anything besides nod in agreement while taking checks from the MPAA and RIAA.  They simply didn’t want to jeopardize such an easy flow of money:

The timing of all this makes the reasoning pretty clear. The IP subcommittee was around for ages, when it was under the control of those who represented the industry. When a reformer is finally in position to be put in charge, the subcommittee is killed and its duties are handed over to the larger committee (controlled by someone who represents the industry). Then, as soon as the reformer is out, the subcommittee comes back? Congress at it’s most shameful: a pretty clear indication that Congressional decisions on intellectual property are driven by the industry. This is how regulatory capture works.

Neither the Republican nor Democratic Party can be trusted to represent the public on IP matters. But coming together in service of Hollywood and the BigPharma? That’s bipartisanship they can believe in.

Bush v. Gore: Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, I was sitting in the Worldport Terminal at JFK, on my way home.  I’d just picked up some Burger King french fries, waiting for a connecting flight back to DCA, while I watched the news.  And it was there that I heard the result of Bush v. Gore.  I can still tell you exactly where I was sitting.  And then I saw the opinion read out on the television.  And I was shocked.

Stupified.  Confounded.  Stunned.

The five justices in the majority helped complete my legal education in a way that I – at the time – truly didn’t think was possible.

The idealism of youth, I suppose.  Or something like that.

To review, the majority applied a principle that they’d never cared about in a way that they’d never done before to a specific set of circumstances they said should never be considered in the future.


I have very little interest in talking about Bush v. Gore.  There’s nothing to say about it, from a legal standpoint.  Sure, it’s a little useful as a basic honesty test, but those that defend it almost always reveal themselves as charlatans well before you ever get to the case itself.  But I do hope that it’s taken as a lesson by new generations.

So long as the Republican party that produced the 5-4 result exists, it’s important that everyone involved in politics understands what happened.

Rep. Moran is Dead Wrong on the TSA’s New Searches

Next time you see Rep. Moran, let him know what you think of his position on the TSA’s new nude-photo-or-get-your-genitals-groped policies:

Northern Virginia Rep. Jim Moran (D) dismissed the recent wave of privacy concerns generated by controversial Transportation Security Administration screening practices, saying: “I could care less whether somebody feels me up.”

[ . . . ]

“You know, it there’s intrusiveness, if it makes you shy or embarrassed or whatever, I’m sorry,” Moran continued. “You just go with the flow. That’s life in the 21st century. I don’t have much sympathy for the privacy advocates on that.”

No, Rep. Moran, you don’t just go with the flow.  In fact, let me remind you what you are expected do:

    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”

Try it in this instance.  Your constituents will appreciate your efforts.

U.S. Prepares to Push for Greatly Expanded Surveillance Powers

Remember the coverage about Dubai’s threatening to shut down Blackberry service unless it could gain access to user communications?  And how the US would never do that?  Well:

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.


[O]fficials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:

– Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.

– Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.

– Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

What could possibly go wrong, eh?

Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, pointed to anepisode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.

“I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”

And yet this will happen.  With little to no notice or objection from the public.

This Is My Country, And It’s None Of Your Business

Just this week I was telling a friend about my lack of tolerance for being interrogated when I re-enter the United States (compare to my polite and honest answers when I’m entering other countries).  Congrats to this guy for not being cowed by a pointless exercise of power.   I particularly like his “takeaways”, including:

4. U.S. Citizens Have No Obligation To Answer Questions. Ultimately, the cops let me go, because there was nothing they could do. A returning U.S. citizen has an obligation to provide proof of citizenship, and the officer has legitimate reasons to investigate if she suspects the veracity of the citizenship claim. A U.S. citizen returning with goods also has an obligation to complete a written customs declaration. But that’s it. You don’t have to answer questions about where you went, why you went, who you saw, etc.

(The Wrong Kind of) Continuity of Government

When we talk about the impressive ability of the United States to transfer political power every four/eight years, we call it impressive because we presume it involves introducing some change that the exiting party opposes.  And the entire point of elections is to provide an opportunity to introduce that change.  So, in that context, I ask – how in the hell did we end up here?

On issues ranging from the government’s detention authority to a program to kill al Qaeda terrorist suspects, even if they are American citizens, Mr. Obama has consolidated much of the power President George W. Bush asserted after Sept. 11 in the waging of the U.S. war against terror.

[ . . . ]

Overall, [former CIA Director and Bush appointee] Mr. Hayden said, there is more continuity than divergence between the Bush and Obama administrations’ approaches to the war on terror.

“You’ve got state secrets, targeted killings, indefinite detention, renditions, the opposition to extending the right of habeas corpus to prisoners at Bagram [in Afghanistan],” Mr. Hayden said, listing the continuities. “And although it is slightly different, Obama has been as aggressive as President Bush in defending prerogatives about who he has to inform in Congress for executive covert action.”

I never thought that Obama (or any president) would willingly give up the expanded state surveillance powers, but I have to admit to being surprised that he’s put so much effort into protecting torturers:

In a 6-5 ruling issued this afternoon, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed the Obama administration a major victory in its efforts to shield Bush crimes from judicial review, when the court upheld the Obama DOJ’s argument that Bush’s rendition program, used to send victims to be tortured, are “state secrets” and its legality thus cannot be adjudicated by courts.

[ . . . ]

The distorted, radical use of the state secret privilege — as a broad-based immunity weapon for compelling the dismissal of entire cases alleging Executive lawbreaking, rather than a narrow discovery tool for suppressing the use of specific classified documents — is exactly what the Bush administration did to such extreme controversy.

This is exactly what Candidate Obama decried.  And now President Obama has completely embraced it.  This isn’t some small matter of little interest to those outside of the legal or political worlds.   The ACLU’s Ben Wizner, who argued the case, said:

This is a sad day not only for the torture victims whose attempt to seek justice has been extinguished, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our nation’s reputation in the world. To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in court. If today’s decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers.

I’d like some of that Change We Can Believe In, please.

(Be sure to click through to the Washington Times (yes, Washington Times) story at the first link, if for no other reason than to behold the amazing agreement of parties from across the full political spectrum on the continuity between Bush and Obama).

Access for All Americans

Carl Malamud, who I just realized I might call a personal hero, lays out what information the Federal government owes its citizens.

YouTube Preview Image

All of it.

You *Can* Take Pictures Here

The Washington Post covers the ongoing inability of police to understand or acknowledge that people can almost always take pictures whenever they want:

A few weeks ago, on his way to work, Matt Urick stopped to snap a few pictures of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s headquarters. He thought the building was ugly but might make for an interesting photo. The uniformed officer who ran up to him didn’t agree. He told Urick he was not allowed to photograph federal buildings.

I’ve gotten this before, and my general reaction is to aggressively assert my rights.  The photography involved has never been particularly important or informative, but that’s up to me to decide, not a police officer who doesn’t understand the law.  Lots of people don’t react they way I do, of course, and for understandable reasons:

Urick wanted to tell the guard that there are pictures of the building on HUD’s Web site, that every angle of the building is visible in street views on Google Maps and that he was merely an amateur photographer, not a threat. But Urick kept all this to himself.

“A lot of these guys have guns and are enforcing laws they obviously don’t understand, and they are not to be reasoned with,” he said. After detaining Urick for a few minutes and conferring with a colleague on a radio, the officer let him go.

This continuing harassment by law enforcement officials is getting a lot of coverage. I hope it will sink in at some point.  Until then, I suggest a quick review of your rights in the US.  In the UK, check this out.

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