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Lawmaker caught speeding in school zone

Thu., April 10, 2008

BOISE – Oops.

Sen. John Goedde, sponsor of the bill to sharply increase Idaho’s fines for speeding in school zones, was caught speeding in a Boise-area school zone Feb. 28 – the day his bill was being debated in the state Senate.

“There was some irony there,” Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, acknowledged Wednesday after news surfaced of his $141.50 ticket.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1361a, sets the minimum fine for school-zone speed violations at $75, plus $41.50 in court costs, for a total of $116.50. Local ordinances still could set higher fines – and Boise is one city that has passed such an ordinance.

“That certainly got my attention,” Goedde said. “It made me a lot more cognizant of looking at school zone signs.”

Not that he’s complaining. “I think kids deserve to be protected in those areas, and I made a mistake and I deserved to pay the fine,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

The fourth-term senator was headed down Boise’s busy Broadway Avenue, taking his fiancée to the airport, when he stopped at the intersection with Boise Avenue, which also is the site of one of Boise’s oldest elementary schools, Garfield Elementary. Goedde said he didn’t see the flashing lights suspended above the road that warn of the school zone.

“I pulled away from the stoplight when the light turned green, and I saw a police officer on a motorcycle with radar,” he recalled. “I looked and I was going 32, and I thought I was going 32 in a 35.”

By the time the officer pulled him over, Goedde was out of the school zone, but at the officer’s prompting, he looked back and saw the flashing lights over the road. The school zone was in effect whenever the lights were flashing.

Goedde’s bill was first introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 30, but it didn’t win final passage until the session’s next-to-last day, April 1. The bill was amended twice, once in the Senate and then in the House. When it passed the House, it was on a narrow 37-26 vote, but much of the debate centered on what is meant exactly by “when children are present.”

Current Idaho law makes school speed zones effective in accordance with whatever signage is posted. Local governments determine whether the signs say enhanced penalties are in effect “when children are present,” when lights are flashing, or during certain days or hours.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that the “when children are present” option might lead to speeding tickets for folks driving past a near-empty schoolyard at night or on a weekend, with a couple of kids on the playground or sledding in the back field.

But Goedde said, “The fact is, that’s the way it is right now. … So we didn’t even try to change that.”

The bill did make one change, however, in response to a North Idaho case in which a judge tossed out a speeding ticket because only one child was present near the motorist, and signs said the zone was in effect when “children” were present. The bill says one child meets the definition of “children.”

Having passed both houses, the measure is now awaiting Gov. Butch Otter’s signature.

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