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Slowpoke Bill in neutral, for now

POSTED: February 13, 2014 7:12 p.m.

While legislators have the weekend off from the Gold Dome pressure cooker — with a deadline of March 20 already set for its work — the session’s halfway point has been reached. Lawmakers would have been on the downhill side of the 40-day session, except that Son of Snowpocalypse forced officials and staff to flee the Capitol beginning Wednesday. At least they’re working, or are scheduled to, on Monday, which is a holiday.

In just his second year in the General Assembly, Rep. Bill Hitchens already has been thrust into the fast lane of attention. Part of the reason is his sponsorship last year of House Bill 459, also known as the Slowpoke Bill.

“I probably got more notoriety than for any other bill that was introduced,” Hitchens said two weeks ago.

The jargon that accompanies the proposed legislation says “Speed restrictions; impeding traffic flow and minimum speed in left-hand lanes; modify provisions.”

The General Assembly recycles bill numbers, so HB 459 in a previous session could mean the creation of the College Park Water and Sewer Authority or the Fulton County Board of Education pension and retirement pay provisions.

In this case, HB 459 never got to the floor for a vote, Hitchens having tabled it. But at its crux, it made it illegal for people to drive too slow in the left-hand lane, on a road with more than two lanes, and impeding traffic flow. The bill also would allow a minimum speed limit to be set. Drivers could not go below that other than for safe operation of their vehicle.

The Slowpoke Bill would not apply when there was no other vehicle behind a car thought to be going too slow in the left lane or when the level of traffic made it impractical to drive in other lanes. It also would not apply when bad weather made it necessary to drive in the left lane or when other lanes were blocked by obstructions or hazards.

“I had a lot of interaction on it,” Hitchens said.

A few years ago, a state court solicitor in another county successfully prosecuted somebody for going too slow. Law enforcement officials in and around that county congratulated him because they see the slower drivers causing accidents and irate motorists.
Since the start of this year’s 40 days under the Gold Dome, Hitchens said, New Jersey has copied the Slowpoke Bill and a similar measure has been introduced to South Carolina’s legislature.

Hitchens also is a co-sponsor of HB 798, “Chelsea’s Law,” which addresses aggressive driving. It defines aggressive driving as operating a vehicle with the intent to annoy, harass, molest, intimidate, injure or obstruct another person. Anyone guilty of aggressive driving may have to go anger management counseling as part of their punishment.

Hitchens also has sponsored HB 733, at the request of the Department of Natural Resources, to define and prohibit hunting under the influence.

Crossover Day, the 30th day of the session on which bills must go from one chamber to the other in order to be considered and enacted, is less than two weeks away, though every day at the Capitol doesn’t count necessarily toward the grand total of 40.

“I’m pretty happy with the pace we are keeping,” said Speaker of the House David Ralston. “Two things I never hear are, ‘why don’t y’all stay in session longer than you do?’ and ‘why don’t y’all pass new laws?’ We’re trying to get our work done with some dispatch.”

It’s not likely the Slowpoke Bill will get back into gear before the end of the session, but it may still go forward in the future.

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