Sunday, February 22, 2009

Landlubbing Law Enforcement to Determine Class III Whitewater

The Oregon State Legislature is considering a bill (HB 2079) that would require all boaters to wear life jackets in Class III whitewater. Great idea but they don’t say who will determine what particular stretch of water is Class III versus Class II.

David Molina, the administrator of the House Veterans and Emergency Committee, stated that law enforcement on the ground will determine if it’s a Class II versus Class III at a given water level. This is unacceptable. Most Oregonians don’t trust government employees to determine areas within their expertise and will be hard pressed to trust them outside of their range of experience. Unless a law enforcement officer has been on the river as a decision-maker (not a passenger in a commercial trip) in a paddle- or oar-powered boat, he is not qualified to classify a given rapid.

Sure, there are rapids around the state where there is agreement on a rapid's classification. However, there are plenty of rivers and creeks that do not have much exposure or general agreement on their classification. A prudent boater would wear a life jacket on many of those waterways during the rainy season but would feel comfortable floating them in the summer without one. As water levels change, so does a rapids’ class.

The Illinois River in southern Oregon is a great example. At different water levels during the rainy season there are stretches that vary between Class III and IV. However, that same river in the summer is a trickle where you might find backpackers in inflatable kayaks next to swimmers. The vagueness of this legislation does nothing to protect river users from capricious implementation.

Even experienced river guides will have different opinions about how to classify a given stretch of the river. I have heard hardened whitewater guides debate what class a given rapid is at a given water level. If you put four experienced whitewater guides together (commercial or private), you’ll get five different opinions, ranging from 2+ clear to 4- given varied water conditions.

That’s because rating whitewater is largely in the eye of the beholder. Despite this, the State Legislature wants to put that determination in the hands of local law enforcement with questionable whitewater rafting or kayaking experience.
Keep in mind that the Oregon State Marine Board did NOT propose this legislation and it’s questionable if this bill would even save lives. A large percentage of fatalities in Oregon occur in flat water and less scary river sections where folks are lulled into a false sense of safety. If the legislature is serious about saving lives they should consider a requirement of life jackets on all moving water.

It is truly rare to ever see a rafter or kayaker without a PFD in Class III whitewater. Occasionally, you’ll see fishermen in private drift boats without them, but even them usually put them on when running Class III. Personally I would like everyone to wear a life jacket, because not wearing one puts experienced boaters in other boats at risk when they may need to save the careless.

For photographic evidence of the legislature attempting to legislate a solution to a non-problem, take a look at rafters at the McKenzie’s most popular Class III rapid. You will hardly ever see a photograph of someone not wearing a life jacket here:

The photo to right
is an example of Class III whitewater on the Siuslaw River after a June storm. A life jacket is necessary after a downpour. However, in the summer it's a trickle where it is perfectly safe to lounge around in an inflatable raft without needing the government to tell you to wear a PFD. As some of my more cynical Libertarian whitewater friends have said, "Let personal responsibility and Darwin work this out."

Here's video of the author guiding R2 down Husum Falls (Class V) on the White Salmon River in Washington:

Yes, life jackets should be required on Class IV/V. I require them in my boat without the help of the government.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oregon bill may prohibit cell phone use while driving

A pair of Oregon House bills will attempt to prohibit handheld cell phone use for all drivers. Currently driving while on a handheld phone is only prohibited for drivers under the age of 18.

The potential law (HB 2038 or HB 2377) would give law enforcement the ability to stop a driver even when they are driving perfectly safely.

These are worthless bills. The Careless Driving law already makes it illegal to drive in a manner that endangers persons or property. Leave safe drivers to their cell phones. Ticket those that are a hazard under the Careless Driving statute.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crime labs need major reform: independence from law enforcement recommended

The real world certainly doesn't work like the CSI TV franchise. Underfunding and missed deadlines may cause sloppy work. Victims and defendants both suffer. It turns out that crime lab workers are just like everyone else. It's no surprise that overworked and underpaid workers beings at the crime labs may cut corners like underpaid and overworked workers in other fields. They aren't immune. Check out this article calling for reforms.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reuse, Recycle, Render: Proposed Oregon law makes horse abandonment a felony

The Oregon legislature is considering a bill making it a felony to release a horse into the wild. Here's an Oregonian article on that.

Proponents have suggested alternatives to wilde release, such as hay banks to assist those who can no longer afford the care of their horse. What the legislature is missing is the real problem: Oregon is in a rendering crisis.

Urban legislators with a disconnect from the farm have to ask this question: now that there are no rendering operations left in Oregon, what are farmers and horsemen supposed to do with old, infirm, and unwanted livestock? If you are renting a horse stall, you may not have land for burial.

A .45 and a backhoe or irresponsible abandonment shouldn't be the only two answers. Instead, Oregon should stay true to its environmental roots: Reuse, recycle, render.

Until the legislature deals with our rendering crisis, the problem of horse abandonment will continue. Adding another criminal law only serves to make politicians look tough on crime and does nothing to fix the underlying problem.

Additional Links:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Preventing Abuse: Balancing stalking orders against abuse of the judicial system

A stalking protective order (SPO) may be obtained when a person is subjected to repeated and unwanted contact that coerces them or causes reasonable apprehension regarding personal safety. SPOs are a vital tool in preventing abuse and protecting persons, particularly women, from contact that places them in fear.

These unwanted contacts can include crimes committed by a party, such as assault or physical harassment, following or waiting for a person outside their work, school, or home, or making legitimate threats of serious and imminent personal violence.

To obtain an SPO a party can fill out a petition to be presented before a judge ex parte (without the other party being notified). This allows a safe avenue for a person to obtain a protective order.

Unfortunately, this uncontested scenario is ripe for abuse. To obtain a SPO all a person has to do is fill out a form alleging two or more alarming contacts.

Although petition signed under penalty of perjury and the respondent is entitled to a hearing, there are immediate consequences to the respondent regardless of the final outcome. First, there is a court finding of probable cause that the respondent is a stalker. Second, collateral consequences often occur with employment. Many employers don’t want to retain an employee that has been found by the court to be a stalker. Third, it immediately affects a person’s right to carry a concealed firearm.

In Lane County there is a culture of people who abuse stalking orders, using them as a tool to aid in an uncomfortable yet non-threatening breakup (e.g., lovesick telephone calls), to get even with a neighbor or a boyfriend’s ex, or to gain advantage in a custody case. This sort of abuse undermines the legitimate claims. Fortunately, SPOs are civil matters that afford considerable opportunities for preparing for trial and defending against frivolous claims (respondent’s request that the petitioner pay attorney fees, depositions, requests for production, etc.)

Terminating the "Permanent" Stalking Protective Order
The Court of Appeals decided Edwards v. Biehler in 2005. Because of this opinion, respondents subject to SPOs of unlimited duration can now file a motion to terminate. SPOs can be terminated if the court finds that the criteria for issuing the order are no longer present, because the petitioner no longer continues to suffer "reasonable apprehension" due to the past acts.

This is a very important case. Before this case, permanent SPOs were often worse than most criminal convictions, since many criminal convictions can be expunged after three years. Clients would pour substantial sums of money into fighting these cases, because they didn't want to forever be known as a stalker. Now this option is available if respondents lose.