Duchess County Legislator considers local laws
Even the most mild-seeming government regulation affects the people under its care. I remind myself of this frequently when weighing proposed county legislation versus the social contract theory of 17th century philosophers Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and others.These thinkers held that for the good of the whole, individuals mutually consent to cede certain rights so that we all can live in stable tranquility. As the Dutchess County Legislature debated two proposed local laws at its November board meeting, I found myself asking whether the societal benefits were worth the forfeited rights of the individual, as well as concepts of punishment, administrative justice and the nature of humanity.The first law proposed banning the riding of horses, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on county rail trails, as well as Bowdoin and Wilcox parks. An earlier draft of this law considered in August proposed banning kite flying, sledding and other commonly viewed park activities. I was a vocal opponent to that draft of the law as these were activities that to me were park pursuits per se. In response, the County Parks Department scaled back their proposed banned activities list to target only horseback riding, snowmobiling and ATV use. We considered the proposal this month.An amendment that I supported to allow exceptions for horseback-riding in Wilcox Park at the discretion of the parks director failed to gain sufficient votes. The county attorney told legislators that the county considers it at risk for liability if injuries were to arise from horse or motor vehicle accidents.The penalty provision of the proposed law made ATV or snowmobile use a violation and impoundment for first offense, but a misdemeanor upon second offense. The penalty for riding a horse in county parks was an automatic misdemeanor with possible jail time on the first offense. To this disparity in treatment, I objected and succeeded by amendment in removing jail time for equestrians and in making the first offense a mere violation likened to a parking ticket. Because the law was amended on the floor, a vote on the entire law was precluded. It is expected to return to our agenda on Thursday, Dec. 1, (committee) and Monday, Dec. 5 (board meeting). Public comment will be permitted.The second law was an update of a 1987 law that required the licensing of pawnbrokers, and their regulation, in mandatory reporting of all purchases of jewelry and precious metals. The concept behind this law was that by logging purchases, law enforcement would be better able to track sales of items reported stolen in area burglaries.While a legitimate use of police power, I argued against this law on a number of grounds. First, it required the prior collection of the seller’s information, including a thumbprint that I thought automatically held all humans as suspect: “A ferocious animal” in the depraved human nature characterization of Thomas Hobbes. The majority of people have honest reasons for the commerce of precious metals, I argued, as in estate sales or economic need. I objected to the inference that humanity is intrinsically bad by default.I also objected that the law places an undue burden on local brokers that will discourage small business in an age of unregulated Internet sales of jewelry, coins and metals. The law’s extended wait period prior to sales from five to seven days to give law enforcement more time to track would-be thefts could also deter the use of local pawnbrokers, as would the required daily sworn affidavits that pawnbrokers need to file describing their business dealings. Failure to comply could result in license forfeiture, with no checks and balance in the appeal process.After discussion on my objections, the sponsors pulled the local law prior to a vote. It is unknown whether it will return in a modified form. Michael Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.