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City awaits State Attorney General opinion on whether County Cellphone law is "enforceable" Monday procedure undetermined at this time.

Mayor requests "reimbursement" of cell law enforcement expenses from county. Raises question of whether law is enforceable based on state opinion rendered on similar Rockland County measure.

Gretsas sees cost of enforcement as exorbitant, due to loss of officers in court, video equipment needed.

Enforcement and reimbursement questions appealed to County Public Safety Committee head, Legislator William Ryan.

Don't drive and talk jive on the cellphone on Monday.
County Cellphone law goes into affect.

By John F. Bailey

CityLine: April 19, 2001 -- City Hall

The City of White Plains is asking the County Committee on Public Safety, how the city should enforce the new law going into affect Monday.

Mayor Delfino is also asking the County to reimburse White Plains for anticipated costs associated with enforcing the law.

George Gretsas, city Executive Officer, noted to WPCNR that if persons allegedly caught violating the cellphone ban while driving (unless they are using a handsfree phone) choose to contest the charges, these cases will tie up a number of White Plains Police Officers in court on a regular basis. In addition, Gretsas pointed out, new equipment such as video cameras may have to be purchased to record the offending cellphone violations as they are spotted.

In a letter to Legislator Ryan, chair of the Public Safety Committee, who helped draft the law, Mayor Joseph Delfino has asked Mr. Ryan to advise the city on two matters. He has asked Ryan how the Committee, and ultimately, the Board of County Legislators, sees the city enforcing the law and how the county will reimburse the city for the costs of enforcement.

The letter to Ryan, released by City Hall Wednesday, was drafted in response to a question from the Gannett Journal News on how the city was going to enforce the new cellphone law.

The law requires that "No person shall utilize a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the County of Westchester." The exceptions to this are if you use the cell phone to contact police, fire or emergency personnel, or if you use the cell phone while stopped. You may use the cell phone if it is equipped with a "handsfree" device.

The penalty for violation is a fine to a maximum of $150. The law states it will be enforced by the Westchester County Department of Public Safety and "may be enforced by any other law enforcement agency having jurisdiction."

Mayor has doubts law is enforceable based on Rockland County "informal opinion"

The Mayor's letter raises the question of whether the Westchester law is enforceable, saying "This new mandate imposed by Westchester County raises several concerns, including the substantial possibility that a municipality lacks the authority to enforce such a law..."

City Hall released a transcript of an "informal opinion" written January 16 of this year, from the State Attorney General's office supporting the White Plains opinion that the law may not be enforceable.

The opinion reads, in part, "there is no clear judicial authority. However, while there is argument to be made that the proposed local law is valid, our reading of the relevant precedents, in conjunction with the Vehicle and Traffic Law as a whole, supports the contrary conclusion that the County (Rockland) is preempted by State law from enacting such a local law."

So begins the 6-page response to a query from Stephen J. Powers, Assistant County Attorneyfor Rockland County in which Mark Gimpel and Allison Penn, Deputy Solicitor General and Assistant Solicitor General, respectively.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gretsas has stated that the City of White Plains is awaiting a ruling from the State Attorney General office as to whether the new Westchester County Cell phone law is "enforceable." No decision has been made as of Wednesday as to how the city will handle cellphone law violations on Monday, April 23, when the law takes affect, pending the State Attorney General's office opinion.

The Mayor's Letter to Legislator William J. Ryan:

"As you know, the Committee on Public Safety of the Westchester County Board of Legislators recommended for approval a local law which bans the use of cellular phones not equipped with a hand-free device by persons operating a motor vehicle in Westchester County. This local law, which you supported as Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, was ultimately adopted by the Board of Legislators.

The new ban applies to 'any public street or public highway within the County of Westchester'. Accordingly, enforcement of this law would require local municipalities to bear most of the costs.

This new mandate imposed by Westchester County raises several concerns, including the substantial possibility that a municipality lacks the authority to enforce such a law and also the question of whether the County of Westchester intends to fully reimburse municipalities for the substantial costs associated with this new County law.

Since this law takes effect forty-five days after enactment and that date is upon us, (April 23), would you please advise me of how your committee intended for communities to enforce this law and how the County would be reimbursing the local municipalities for the costs.

Please get back to me as soon as possible.


Joseph M. Delfino

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