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Overweight Bodycams

Since August 2014, a re-energized conversation has swept the United States regarding the relationship between law enforcement and racial minority populations. It’s loud, it’s heated and it’s not going away any time soon. One of many dialogues revolves around the use of body cameras by police officers. As Illinois wrestles with the advent of this technology, the trucking industry has unwillingly found themselves squarely in the middle of the debate. The article this week explains why.

To be perfectly clear, the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is not taking a position of support or opposition to police body cameras. There are some interesting things to consider though.

First, the trucking industry has many complaints about law enforcement, some justified, some not. The ITEA has heard them all, but the ITEA has yet to field a complaint from truckers about police officers using excessive force.

Second, as has been proven by the dashcam videos with officers wearing body microphones, noisy trucks and recorded audio don’t mix well. What the viewer hears is the police officer closing the car door, the roar of traffic passing by at breakneck speeds, then the garble of diesel engines silencing all conversation.

The intelligent reader quickly concludes the bodycam movement is not predicated on trucking, so why even mention these two points? Because in Illinois, the carrier industry is going to be the one funding the lion’s share of bodycam legislation – but it’s not their problem.

At the time of publishing, SB 1304 has passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and is on its way to Governor Bruce Rauner. If he signs the legislation into law, it will become effective January 1st, 2016.

This bill sat dormant from February 28th to May 26th, 2015. On May 27th two amendments were introduced, which completely changed the original purpose for the bill. Within 72 hours it had cleared both the House and Senate. It happened so quickly lobbyists and special interests groups from both trucking and law enforcement did not have time to fully understand the text. This is typical Illinois politics.

In fairness to the two sponsors of the bill, they understandably had no idea how the funding mechanism would interact with the complexities of truck law. To their credit, after the trucking industry informed them of the unfair and disproportional tax being placed on their industry, Senator Kwame Raoul and Representative Elgie Sims agreed to introduce a trailer bill to remedy the original bill.

The trailer bill is not really a fix until it is signed by the Governor. Getting the bill to his desk may prove tougher than originally thought. Why? Because of surcharges, and the state agency who wants the surcharge revenue does not want to give it up. Again, this is Illinois politics.

On June 7th, 2014, the ITEA published an article called Surcharging. This post explained the how a statutory surcharge is collected by law enforcement when they write overweight tickets and how none of the revenue comes back to them. This topic was also discussed in a May 23rd article titled Calculated Fines.

To fund bodycams, SB 1304 mandates a $5 increase from $10 to $15, for every $40 of traffic fines. Say a person pleads guilty to speeding and is fined $120. The surcharge for the motorist increases $15 from $30 to $45. It stings, but it’s not the end of the world. Hey – it’s the general public who wants the police bodycams anyhow, so let them fund it.

The trucking industry is not clamoring for bodycams, but they are the ones who are going to fund an estimated 40% of the revenue through surcharges on overweights!

The trucker who gets a 5,000 pound overweight will see the surcharge rise from $420 to $630 ($210). A 10,000 pound overweight goes from $750 to $1125 ($375). A 120,000 permit load which accidentally goes off route (40,000 pounds overweight) will see a $1500 increase from $3000 to $4500!

If the pre-SB 1304 surcharge fees were not disproportional enough, tacking on a 33% increase to an industry trying to help this fledgling state economy survive is ridiculous.

To add further insult to injury, SB 1304 does not mandate law enforcement to use bodycams. It only helps provide funding if they elect too.

There is a reality many police agencies will not take advantage of the projected $6 million in funding provided by the surcharge increase. If so, how will those leftover funds benefit truckers?

It won’t and there is no legislation to make it so. Those dollars will go into another coffer for the State of Illinois to mismanage, similar to the 14.35% surcharge on truck & trailer registration, aka the Commercial Distribution Fee.

The irony is bodycams are all about accountability. Who is holding accountable those in control of the bodycam purse strings?

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