Monday, June 5, 2006

"Click it or ticket"

Syndicated columnist Walter Williams blasted the national "Click it or ticket" program a few weeks ago, and I heartily agree with his objections to the program. When we cede power to the government to watch over us, we set a dangerous precedent that future generations will regret. There are ever-increasing voices for more government action on things like diet, especially with the justifiable concern over obesity.

I'm less than thrilled with some of the tactics local law enforcement has used to enforce the seat belt law. I have driven through the pseudo-roadblocks local police set up on College Avenue to slow traffic and make sure people are wearing their seat belts. While I always wear my seat belt, I felt violated as Nanny Government was watching out for me. I am an adult, and I do not need the government to be looking over my shoulder "for my own good."

The controversy over the click it or ticket boiled over locally three years ago when the Monroe County Council voted 4-3 to reject grant money that would be used to pay overtime for sheriff's deputies in the Operation Pullover program. The Herald-Times scolded the four members of the County Council who voted no, saying they did not want to "hear any more whining... about how tight county finances are and how badly they need more revenue."

But the Herald-Times once again displayed unacceptable laziness in failing to actually do some research and report the facts. The county clerk and prosecutor's offices had to spend money for 4158, 6750 and 4594 tickets in 2000, 2001 and 2002, while every penny of the fines collected goes to state government. In other words, county government actually loses money by accepting the seat belt grant. I confirmed with county clerk Jim Fielder on Saturday that this is still the case and that the county is still losing money as a result of "click it or ticket". The H-T never did apologize for their counter-factual attack.

The County Council did the right thing in rejecting the grant money, even though two of the four who initially opposed the funding changed their votes after they became convinced that intrusive tactics would be minimized and that the focus will be on drunk driving rather than seat belts. What was normally a rubber-stamp vote became an opportunity to stand for the principle of limited government and individual liberty.

With four of seven seats on the County Council to be decided five months from now and a new Sheriff to be chosen on November 7, county voters should be asking the candidates what their position is on "operation pullover" funds and what role (if any) government should have in protecting people from their own bad choices.