Enforceable in Bellevue: A Response, by Mark Robinson

In response to the recent blog on The Citizen website (http://thecitizen.us/blog/unenforceable-bellevue) titled “Unenforceable in Bellevue”, I would like to point out that this article indicates this word as being given a creative definition, but it fails to point out what the real definition of the word is.

Unenforeceable – Not capable of being brought about by compulsion.

So in other words, in order for something to be “enforceable”, it indicates that something is indeed capable of being brought about by compulsion. So let’s break this down into two parts: Enforcement indicates that it needs to be; 1. capable of being enforced (notice it doesn’t say 100% of the time) and 2. must contain the means to make people comply. The means used to drive this compulsion to obey the law are done in the form of penalties. The penalties must be strict enough so that there is a significant inconvenience to the offending party otherwise the penalty would not force compliance.

Now that we have broken it down into two parts, let’s compare the blog’s example of speeding laws to the new rules regarding the skate plaza, and just for fun, to the new grilling sections of the open burning ordinance.

1. Are the laws capable of being enforced?

a. Speeding – The fact that speeding laws protect public roadways, and there is a reasonable belief that police are randomly monitoring the roadways, yes, there is reasonable belief that it is capable of being enforced. How do I know, because when you are speeding, you always are keeping an eye out for that cop hiding around the next corner.

b. Skate Plaza Rule of mandatory helmet wearing if you are under some age whether it is 12 or 18. Well, it is interesting that these new rules aren’t actually a law until they become an ordinance. They are strict guidelines to suggest a behavior for certain groups of people while partaking in skateboarding in our new plaza. There are, however, city employees, police and library staff around throughout the day, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Part 1 is confirmed that, yes, there is reasonable belief that this rule is capable of being enforced.(remember though it isn’t a law)

c. Open burning ordinance sections as they relate to Grilling being greater than 5 ft. from any combustible surface unless the manufacturer says you don’t have to or you call the Fire Marshall to come for a personal visit to your house while you cook him a hamburger so that you get your individual seal of approval from the Bellevue fire department to have your grill exactly where it may be located at that moment in time (because if you move it, it will cost you another hamburger), or the council uses its extra funds in the bank to hire aerial surveillance with an infrared camera to detect grill hotspots too close to all defined no-no spots in your yard. I hope that explained it itself. The Fire Marshall cannot come on to your property and look over your fence; they cannot smell steaks cooking and use that as probable cause to come waltzing into your backyard. Survey says….no reasonable expectation of enforcement.

2. What penalty will drive compliance?

a. Speeding Laws – Well, most people understand what is going to happen if you get pulled over for speeding. First, you are going to start praying to whatever faith you believe in that you just get off with a warning. Why do most people hope for a warning? Because they don’t want to pay the fine. There is an economic disadvantage to breaking a speeding law, and there could be further actions taken such as license suspension, and incarceration depending on the seriousness of the infraction. All things that everyone wants to avoid at all costs. Good way to make sure people are compliant.

b. Skate Plaza Rule of mandatory helmet wearing if you are under some age whether it is 12 or 18. So thinking back to the part where I indicated that this was only a rule: There are no true penalties. There are consequences. Similar to other rules that are out there, like; don’t lie to your parents, or always share your toys with your siblings. Kids are smart. They quickly learn, ok , I have to go stand in the corner for five minutes until…..oh no…I get to play with my toys again!! YAY!! What is someone going to do if you suspect someone who is under whatever age gets decided on (lets say 12 because that is what council agreed to) is out there without a helmet? Hmmmm….first question to make sure they aren’t breaking the rule would have to be, “Let me see some ID with your birthday on it”. The kid responds, “I’m 13”. How many kids do we know under the age of at least 16 (if they even have their driver’s license) that carry ID with them?!? And what are you going to do if they confirm that they are indeed under the age of 12? Send them home? Tell them to put a helmet on? What about the follow up time you catch them? Send them home? Tell them to put a helmet on? It doesn’t matter if you are 12, 16, 18, 30, 50, or 100, with a consequence like that; there is no reason to comply.

c. Open burning ordinance sections as they relate to Grilling being greater than 5 ft. from any combustible surface yadda yadda yadda…. Ok, this is a law unlike the Skate Plaza rule. Up to a $1000.00 fine, unless, the Fire Marshall says you are ok in which case (I don’t think this part is written in the ordinance but Linda Woshner said it) you will receive a cornucopia of educational literature regarding the dangers and evils of grilling on your deck. At some point I would assume that the government overreach board will also be adding pamphlets on healthy eating telling you that the red meat you have so carefully marinated is going to give you a heart attack!! So, to wrap this one up…yes there is a fine, and therefore there is means to force compliance.

Now let’s sum up….
Two things required to make a law enforceable:
1. Reasonable ability to enforce and expect enforcement
2. The means to ensure compliance via a penalty.

Speeding laws are both reasonably capable of enforcement and penalties provide a means to ensure a higher rate of compliance. That’s two big old checkmarks meaning this law is “Enforceable”! Good job government!!!

Skate Plaza rule about helmets. Hmmm…First it’s not a law, but I am sure there is something occurring in the underbelly of council….I smell an ordinance brewing (or is it grilling?). Anyhow, 1 big old checkmark to it being reasonably capable of being enforced, but I am still struggling with the penalty….giving a second chance to wear a helmet, you should go home but feel free to come back tomorrow? Not smelling the fear of the monetary fine, or suspension, or incarceration here. Sorry, but I can’t award the points for maintaining compliance. Anyone who knows kids aged 12-18, knows what I am talking about.

Open burning ordinance sections as they relate to Grilling being greater than 5 ft. from any combustible surface yadda yadda yadda… While a $1000.00 fine is definitely something that will make me think twice, I don’t plan on inviting the Fire Marshall (while I am sure he is a great guy) over to my house for a beer and bratwurst anytime soon. My house sits on a hill up from the street and is surrounded by privacy fence so he wouldn’t be able to spot me with my rotisserie going 2 feet from the back of my house if he happened to drive by with the windows down and smelled a potential law breaker, so I think I am safe. Penalty? Absolutely Reasonably capable of being enforced? Probably not. That would be like inviting the police to your drug deal…granted some people have done stupider things, I give the people of Bellevue more credit than that. No more backyard BBQ’s for that guy! Also, Not enforceable.

The Citizen blog highlights what I am pointing out about the penalties almost better than I could have said it…

“…the truth is that most people obey most of the laws simply because they know it is wrong to break them, and they don’t want to pay the penalty if they do get caught. We do a risk/benefit analysis, and make our decisions; we might speed a little, but not a lot, and most of us certainly do not rob banks.”

There is one other thing I do want to mention about the blog here. It is a defining factor between many political points of view but for me it really is just a straight up difference of core beliefs. The Citizen asks the question “don’t our elected officials have a duty to look out for minors who may not use the best judgement?”  While I do not want to minimize the horror of a child being hurt, I still must answer that question with a resounding NO! Our elected officials should not take this as one of their duties. While they are responsible for ensuring a greater environment is safe for all of their residents, you need to ensure that parental duties are the most important and hold parents to that. If you want to make a good “rule,” then make a rule that say if you are 12 and under you must be supervised by a parent at all times. This puts the onus on the parent and if it appears that someone happens to be there under the age then the first response is that they need to leave immediately but are more than welcome to come back with a legal guardian. Too often now does government think that they can step in and protect our children because parents aren’t. The problem is twofold. First, it makes parents think that they don’t have to take responsibility and second, it puts one heck of a weight on the shoulder of law enforcement officials that now have to be watching and waiting on every child they come across. A child 12 and under should not be off walking the streets without a parent to begin with (I am sure there are parents who would disagree with me), and, if you know your child is going to be skateboarding especially at a young age, wouldn’t you want to be there to ensure their safety? All this rule does is provide a false sense of security that if they let their ten year old skateboard 3 blocks down a major street in Bellevue to go a skate park where there will be other older teenagers hanging around, that all will be ok. Why, because they have their helmet on. I hope it protects them from getting hit by a car, or the peer pressure they will be under while they are there. If not, then this rule does more damage than it does good. Personal responsibility and the responsibility of a parent to care for minor children (talking under 12 here folks) needs to be encouraged. The more the government tries to help, the less reliant people become on themselves to do what is right.

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