Bill on its way to the Senate would help local governments enforce their anti-idling ordinances

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Tailpipes are a major source of emissions, and idling and "warming up" your car is a widespread practice in Utah, as shown here in this file photo from July 3, 2017. The Utah House of Representatives approved a bill on Tuesday that would make it easier for cities to enforce the idling ordinances they have on the books.

A bill that would make it slightly easier for local governments to enforce their anti-idling ordinances is on its way to the Senate after passing the House on Tuesday with a 40-29 vote.

Rep. Patrice Arent, the proposal’s sponsor, said research has shown that vehicle emissions contribute a large portion of the state’s air pollution. But she noted that cities that do have anti-idling ordinances have a hard time enforcing them because of restrictions in state law.

“The current law requires three warning tickets before [law enforcement officers] can even give a very minor citation,” Arent, D-Millcreek, told colleagues on the House floor. “So let’s say a car got three warning tickets in Logan and three warning tickets in Holladay and three warning tickets in Salt Lake and now they’re in Sandy. There’s no knowledge by the Sandy officers that the warning tickets have happened.”

HB148 would require a single warning citation before police can charge a fine. But the proposal doesn’t address the challenge officers face in tracking citations across cities.

“And that’s the reason you need to change [the citation number],” Arent told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. “Because there is no tracking mechanism.”

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said his city has declined to pass an anti-idling ordinance over concerns that it would be impossible for officers to enforce and would mostly be symbolic.

“You can pass a bill just as a message and this is a good message,” he told The Tribune. “Not to say that we shouldn’t be educating people about idling. But I was just concerned that the way the state law was set up was unenforceable" and would waste officers’ time.

But if Arent’s bill passes, Silvestrini said he thinks the council would be “much more inclined” to consider approving an anti-idling ordinance, as a number of his residents have requested.

A stricter version of Arent’s proposal, which would have eliminated the requirement for any warning citations, initially failed in committee. This iteration is a “compromise bill,” Arent told lawmakers on Tuesday — one that she noted has support from air-quality organizations, multiple municipalities and the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Sandy City Councilman Zach Robinson said the anti-idling measure the city passed last March has been “very well received” in the community. But even under one of the strictest such ordinances in Salt Lake County, Sandy residents “know they can’t essentially get a ticket because of the way the law is written right now,” Robinson told lawmakers as he urged them to support Arent’s bill.

Drivers are prohibited in Sandy from idling their car’s engine for more than one minute on public property or private property open to the public. Exemptions include traffic, use of law enforcement and fire equipment vehicles and repairing or inspecting a car.

At least four other municipalities in the county have citywide idle-free ordinances: Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Holladay and Murray. All allow for a two-minute idle before a driver comes into violation.

HB148 will now move to the Senate for further consideration.