Community, Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Mon Commission sets hearing for pedestrian and vehicle safety law

MORGANTOWN — What started out as a quest to create a county-wide panhandling ordinance has resulted in a proposed “Ordinance Regulating Pedestrian and Vehicle Safety.” 

The change in verbiage, Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom explained, came down to a couple factors. 

Number one, lawyers. 

Number two, Bloom continued, the point of the ordinance was always to get people out of the road, not tell people what they can and can’t say. 

“This version has taken the recommendations from the committee — all the cities and law enforcement, and then went to several attorneys to see what is constitutional and ask, ‘What are we really trying to do?’” Bloom said. “The bottom line is it’s a safety issue.”  

On Wednesday, the county commission set an Aug. 16 public hearing for the ordinance, which is expected to be available for review at in the coming days.  

The proposed ordinance includes a number of prohibitions for both pedestrians within a right-of-way and vehicle passengers that would make it illegal for both parties to interact and pass or exchange items. 

The ordinance would also prohibit standing, sitting or otherwise remaining within a roadway or median not wider than 10 feet for any reason other than crossing the street, and makes considerations for activity on or near roads based on vehicle speed, traffic volume and lighting conditions, among other factors.

Bloom said he believes the ordinance is content-neutral and doesn’t single out any groups or individuals. 

“This same law that would keep you from standing in the road asking for money will also apply to community groups or fire departments fundraising in the middle of the road,” he said. “There is no discrimination.”  

As for penalties, Bloom said incarceration as a penalty option was flagged by legal counsel as a potential stumbling block. Instead, a first offense will result in a written warning and each subsequent offense will result in a fine of not more than $100. 

Members of the law enforcement community previously said that without at least the option for jail time, the law will be toothless. Further, they asked, what happens when all the fines go unpaid? 

“That’s a struggle right now with fines that we have in place for any citation, not just this. People haven’t really been paying their fines since COVID hit,” Star City Police Chief Jessica Colebank said. “We understand that struggle, but there’s still a need to address the issue. There are consequences for every action you take, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. Not acknowledging that consequence is what’s going to be the issue.” 

Even so, Bloom said the county needs to make the effort. He points to a statewide ban on panhandling and loitering on state roads that was recently signed into law in Alabama.  

“That shows that these aren’t just local problems. It’s a nationwide problem and people are trying to come up with solutions,” he said. “To me, it’s a common-sense ordinance.” 

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