Lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly shot down an attempt by a Utah Democrat to repeal provisions of state code that render local idle-free ordinances virtually toothless.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, sponsored HB148, a bill that would amend a law the Utah Legislature created in 2012 that targeted Salt Lake City’s newly passed law that made it illegal to leave a car idling for more than two minutes.
At the time, Arent opposed the bill saying the Legislature shouldn’t micromanage cities. Tuesday, Arent made that case again — with support from local mayors, city council members and other business organizations.
But her efforts came up short when the House Government Operations Committee had a split vote, 5-5, on whether the bill would advance to the House floor, effectively killing it for now.
Arent’s bill would have repealed language in Utah’s law that mandates certain requirements cities must follow if they pass anti-idle ordinances. Those requirements include that a person must be issued at least three warnings before getting fined.
That provision, Arent said, renders idle-free ordinances “unenforceable” and acts as a roadblock to city governments that are serious about making an impact on the Wasatch Front’s poor air quality.
“Having this be enforceable will make a big difference,” Arent said.
She noted that warnings are currently “impossible” to track in law enforcement systems, and so the required three-warning rule makes any city’s idle-free ordinance practically a joke to any citizen who knows the law.
“A ticket you can track; a warning you can’t track,” she said. “That’s the problem.”
Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said his city, though he’s supportive of an anti-idle ordinance, hasn’t taken the steps to pass one yet because he knows it would be “just an impossible thing to enforce” because of the three-warning rule.
“It’s time to get a little tougher on that,” he said.
Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Murray, Sandy, Park City and Logan have all passed anti-idle ordinances.
Sandy City Councilman Zach Robinson said he and his community takes pride in the anti-idle ordinance but acknowledges its downsides.
“People know they can’t essentially get a ticket because of the way the law is written right now,” Robinson said.
Representatives from the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Utah Restaurant Association and the Utah Bankers Association all spoke in support of the bill after working with Arent on its drafting.
But still, lawmakers along Republican lines were reluctant to leave the law completely in the hands of cities.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, grilled Arent on the law, raising concerns about whether loosening the three-warning rule would be fair to motorists, whether signs would be required to inform residents of the law, and how motorists could expect uniformity across city lines.
Arent argued it would be up to cities, like it already is with many local laws, to address those issues. Even though her arguments found favor with some lawmakers, including some Republicans, the vote fell short.