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This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the May 14, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

On State Legislation

Every once in a while you hear about your government

doing something — or trying to do something — that makes you

happy to pay your taxes.

That’s the way I felt last week when I read the newspaper report of

the state Assembly considering a bill that would make it against the

law to drive a motor vehicle while simultaneously taking a call on

a hand-held cell phone or fiddling with your radio or CD player, putting

on make-up, reading the newspaper, wolfing down your bagel and coffee,

or tending to the wolfhound in the backseat.

If the legislation becomes law (a similar bill limited only to the

use of hand-held cell phones already has passed in the state Senate),

then the police blotter pages will have references to DWD along with

DWI — driving while distracted will be against the law as surely

as driving while intoxicated, though with lesser penalties.

Of course, whenever you hear anyone praising legislation at the state

level, you can bet that they have some personal axe to grind. I have


No. 1. While I am as much opposed to reckless cell phone

use as anyone else, I always remained silent on the subject because

I was as much an offender as anyone. But then three weeks ago I stumbled

into Brookstone at MarketFair and found a hands-free cell phone cradle

that plugs into the cigaret lighter. It was just $30 and it works

— it even turns the phone on automatically when you start the


Since I hardly ever eat in the car, and since the new law would be

one more argument I could use when my kids start fighting in the back

seat, I am more in favor of it than ever.

No. 2. My other axe dates back to early this year, when

I began to notice the constant stream of faxes coming into our office

from the state legislators. In the past I have always taken these

faxes, crumpled them up, and used them to play a little office basketball

as I walked past the nearest trash can. But for some reason one caught

my eye that did not make me happy to pay my taxes.

It was a fax from the Assembly Democrats and it announced that the

Assembly’s state government committee had released a measure —

sponsored by William D. Payne, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Herb Conaway

— that declared February to be "Black History Month" in

New Jersey. Now this seemed strange: February has been Black History

Month for as long as this paper has been in business and our February

issues have been filled with noteworthy cultural events celebrating

the accomplishments and remembering the struggles of the African-American


Even stranger was that the press release was dated February 13, and

it specifically declared February, 2003, as Black History Month. The

release noted that the measure still had to go to the Assembly Speaker,

who would determine "if and when to post it for a floor vote."

What if it took more than 15 days to accomplish that, I wondered.

The month would be over and presumably they would have to start all

over again the next year.

So I began to collect those faxes that come unrelentingly into our

office. Black History Month, relatively speaking, got short shrift

from our legislators. The environment was the subject of many more

pieces of legislation. One such measure would have allocated $11 million

in funding for open space acquisition (the land was located in part

in the legislative district of the bill’s sponsors, Watson Coleman

and Reed Gusciora).

You might applaud the determination of your elected officials in going

after those funds, but if you read beyond the headline of the press

release you discover that the money would be appropriated from not

the highway fund or the state legislators’ retirement fund or expense

allowance but rather from the Garden State Green Acres Preservation

Trust Fund.

And so it went. My stack of faxes began to cram an in-box I had allotted

to them: Proposed legislation to designate March as Women’s History

Month (dated March 3), to protect homeowners from toxic mold, to increase

penalties for home burglaries, to protect children from dangerous

school bus drivers, to study the role of the Civil Air Patrol in the

state’s homeland security plans, to encourage humane veal rearing

practices, to ensure warrant checks of inmates awaiting release from

prison, to create a "drug cost reduction study" commission,

to implement a color-coding system to prevent incorrect medical gases

to be given to hospital patients, and — last but not least in

my pile — a bill to require all police, campus police, and sheriff’s

officers to undergo psychological testing before employment and every

five years thereafter.

Operating on the premise that you should not say anything about someone

unless you can say something nice, I didn’t know what to do with all

this onslaught of government protectionism. Then I saw that news about

the DWD offense: Thanks again, legislators, for all your good work.

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