The Legislature isn’t a week old and bills have been introduced that have sparked debate over personal freedom.
Legislation to allow businesses to open before noon on Sundays, to make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense and to make it legal to leave your vehicle idling while not occupied will get a lot of attention. Some will see an effort to infringe on personal rights or improve on rights in each bill.
Those who favor keeping the remaining blue laws on the books argue it frees people from work so they can attend church. They also believe it creates a break from too much consumerism. Sunday is a day of worship, they say, and at least part of the day should be set aside.
A lot has changed since the laws were adopted. Many churches hold services several days a week to make it more convenient for their congregations. There are ways to watch and listen to services remotely. Sunday remains important, but efforts to feed the soul happen on a daily basis.
A lot of people work on Sundays. Hospitals, police departments, fire departments, restaurants, gas stations, towing businesses, newspapers, radio and TV stations are just a few that can open. It no longer makes sense to force a few businesses to remain closed until noon on Sundays. It’s time to allow all businesses to open, if they want, on Sunday morning. Hobby Lobby does just fine without opening at all on Sundays.
The Tribune Editorial Board favors lifting the limits on Sunday shopping. There are many North Dakotans who work odd hours or worship another day of the week where Sunday opening would be beneficial. It also would be helpful for the tourism industry, which often has to explain to visitors why some businesses are closed.
Lifting the ban would increase our freedom of choice.
Another bill in the Legislature would make it legal to leave your unoccupied vehicle idling. It’s a common practice in cold weather across the state. Under present law, residents face a potential $1,500 fine and 30 days in jail if caught leaving their vehicle idling. It’s a law that’s rarely, if ever, enforced.
It was adopted nearly 75 years ago in an effort to keep unoccupied vehicles from being stolen. Now, with remote starters and other devices, motorists can start their vehicles from a distance and run them while locked. It should be a no-brainer to pass the legislation by Rep. Daniel Johnston, R-Kathryn, amending the law to make it legal to idle vehicles.
A third bill that has some North Dakotans upset would make not wearing a seat belt a primary violation. That means law enforcement officers could ticket someone they notice not wearing a seat belt. At present, officers can ticket someone for not wearing a seat belt only if they are stopped for another offense. North Dakota law allows primary enforcement of seat belt use for minors throughout a vehicle.
Under legislation by Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, seat belt use would be required in front and back seats. The state would have primary enforcement and violations would mean a $50 fine. North Dakota is one of 15 states with a secondary seat belt law for adults in a vehicle's front seats.
While the Tribune believes in personal freedom, we think this legislation makes sense. We require motorists to get drivers’ licenses, license and insure vehicles and follow the rules of the road. Allowing officers to enforce seat belt laws doesn’t seem like an infringement on rights. It’s another safety step in a state where we have too many traffic deaths.
There will be a number of other bills that raise questions about personal rights. The Tribune thinks these three bills should be passed.