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Wilson’s congressman pushed for a now-defunct state bill that would allow federal lawmakers to operate blue lights in their personal cars, and it’s unclear if his own brushes with traffic law influenced the request.
State Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said this week he’d no longer pursue Senate Bill 618, which sought to allow North Carolina’s 13 U.S. representatives and two U.S. senators to use the emergency lights ordinarily reserved for sworn law enforcement officers. McKissick said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, asked him to introduce the legislation.
Butterfield received two speeding tickets in North Carolina while serving as the state’s 1st Congressional District representative, according to court records. The N.C. Highway Patrol issued him a July 2016 citation for driving 71 mph in a 55 mph zone in Wilson County. He also was cited in January 2010 for driving 74 mph in a 55 mph zone in Edgecombe County.
Records show prosecutors dismissed both infractions without leave, meaning the traffic charges could not be re-filed.
In a statement released by Nicole Julius, communications director in Butterfield’s Washington office, the congressman said safety concerns motivated him to seek the blue light bill.
“I asked Senator McKissick to consider offering legislation that would permit members of Congress to display a blue or red light in emergencies while riding in a vehicle displaying an official license plate,” Butterfield said. “This would provide an extra layer of security in an emergency. I appreciate Senator McKissick’s effort to provide this extra layer of security for federal representatives who find themselves at times in dangerous situations. However, the General Assembly has much legislation to consider and I don’t want this issue to become a distraction.”
The Wilson Times provided Julius with questions about Butterfield’s driving history and past speeding citations and did not receive responses.
Since its introduction, SB 618 has received criticism from those who believe congressional representatives will use emergency lights in order to disregard traffic laws absent a valid emergency and the special permission would constitute a privilege the citizens they represent do not enjoy.
The N.C. Sheriffs Association did not evaluate the bill and will not take a position on it because its sponsor announced he would no longer pursue it, said Eddie Caldwell, the group’s executive vice president and general counsel.
McKissick did not return phone calls in time for this story, but the Durham senator told the News & Observer he was dropping the bill due to the negative response it received.
“If public perception is such (that) it creates concern, even though it might have been motivated by good intentions, it’s just not worth it,” he told the Raleigh newspaper.
A request for comment from the press secretary for Wilson County’s other congressman, Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding, was not returned Wednesday or Thursday.
Senate Bill 618 would have allowed any member of Congress to install blue lights in vehicles with special U.S. representative or U.S. senator license plates and operate those lights “in the performance of the member’s official duties.”
State Sens. Danny Earl Britt Jr., R-Robeson, and Paul A. Lowe Jr., D-Forsyth, had signed on as co-sponsors.