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Louisiana pushes prohibition of light-changing devices

By Ed Anderson
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

BATON ROUGE -- Legislation designed to keep drivers from obtaining electronic devices that can change traffic lights sailed out of a House committee Wednesday with no opposition.

"I want to make it illegal for ordinary people to have them," Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, the chief sponsor of House Bill 188, told the Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice. The bill now heads to the House floor for debate.

The instruments, known as traffic signal pre-emption devices, are used frequently by police officers, fire personnel, paramedics and others to get through traffic by changing a red light to green.

Richmond said the devices can be purchased on the Internet for about $325. His bill would allow only emergency personnel to use them.

Richmond's bill stipulates that anyone else caught using such a device be jailed for up to a year, fined a maximum of $5,000, or both.

Other states, including Kansas, Michigan and Virginia, have adopted laws banning the devices by anyone but emergency workers.

State Police spokesman Lt. William Davis said he is unaware of any serious problems with the devices in Louisiana but said if the devices become popular and drivers start using them "it would cause mayhem" with traffic, increasing accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Earlier, the panel unanimously approved a bill making it a crime for drivers to play sexually explicit movies in their vehicles where others may be able to see the suggestive fare.

However, both prosecutors and defense attorneys testified that if the bill becomes law it probably will face a constitutional challenge.

Rep. Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice, said he filed House Bill 640 at the request of a constituent whose family was subjected to seeing a raunchy movie while their vehicle was near another with video screens.

The bill was amended in committee to set a maximum sentence of six months in jail, a $500 fine, or both; subsequent offenses would be punished by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Guillory's original bill mandated at least 10 days in jail for the offense.

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