Towing and cell phone ordinances to stir more controversy

After a year of uncertainties for Chapel Hill’s towing and cellphone ordinances in 2012, the future of both laws was once again a topic of controversy in 2013 after the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to review the ordinances in November .

The town modified its towing ordinance, requiring tow zones to be clearly marked, tow operators to alert police when towing a vehicle and tow operators not to tow vehicles more than 15 miles outside of the town. The new ordinance was meant to go into effect in 2012 .

A cellphone ordinance was created in the same year, which banned the use of both handheld and hands-free cellphones while driving. Cellphone use is a secondary offense, meaning a driver would have to be pulled over for another traffic violation before being fined $25.

Year in Review 2013

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Although the ordinances were not connected, George King, owner of George’s Towing and Recovery, challenged both in May 2012, arguing that the ordinances are contradictory and possibly harmful to his business .

“The effect of these ordinances take together threatened (King’s) business,” King’s brief for the appellate court said .

“They mandated both the heavy use of cell phones while towing due to the telephone reporting requirements while at the same time prohibiting his drivers from using cell phones while driving.”

After reviewing the case, Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson struck down both ordinances in August 2012, but the town decided to appeal the decision.

The N.C. Court of Appeals decided in June to overturn Judge Hudson’s decision and uphold both ordinances, but King answered by seeking review from the state’s Supreme Court.

And the fate of the towing and mobile phone ordinances is up in the air again after the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed last month to review the controversial laws.

Chapel Hill Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos said King is expected to file his petition this month, and the town will then have 30 days to file its petition.

Although the town has drawn on outside resources in the past, Karpinos said this case will be handled by staff attorneys in Chapel Hill.

Judith Welch Wegner , a professor at the UNC School of Law, said the ultimate question is whether the town has the authority to pass regulation in these areas.

She said the state Supreme Court has recently released decisions that have limited local governments’ authority to regulate, although it is hard to predict what the outcome of the review of the ordinances will be.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he hadn’t expected the Supreme Court to agree to review the case.

“I was actually kind of surprised,” Kleinschmidt said in an interview last month. “It puts our win at risk.”

city@dailytarheel.com

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