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Maine Bill Would Protect Makeshift Roadside Memorials
02/11/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Roadside memorials are not an unusual site in Maine - a cross or name plate, maybe flowers and stuffed animals or other items that mark the spot of a fatal accident. One lawmaker is proposing a bill aimed at protecting these makeshift shrines from being removed. But members of a legislative panel exploring the issue say the legislation would create more problems than it solves. A.J. Higgins reports.

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Maine Bill Would Protect Makeshift Roadside Memori
Originally Aired: 2/11/2013 5:30 PM

At the heart of the proposed bill, says its sponsor, is this: "For those who do choose to recognize a place where their loved one died by placing a cross, it is doubly painful if someone steals it," says state Rep. Kathleen Chase, a Republican from Wells.

Chase says her bill would protect roadside memorials that are under three feet tall and placed in a public right of way. "All this bill is basically requesting is to establish a penalty for deliberately destroying or stealing private memorials at the death of a loved one for one year from the death of that loved one," she told colleagues.

Chase's bill, which went before the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, would create a new Class D crime of "tampering with a private memorial in a public way," punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. It would exempt individuals from prosecution if they've been given written authority by the family to remove the private memorial, or if the memorial has been on site for more than a year or exceeds three feet in height.

But it doesn't do much to address the concerns of municipal highway workers. Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Association says her organization opposes the bill because it turns highway crews into potential offenders.

"If a public employee is performing his or her duties and takes down a cross or memorium, are we then responsible or guilty of a Class D crime, and for the fine or imprisonment of doing our jobs?  So our concern is that if there is interest in moving forward that you exempt municipal activities within the right of way from this potential crime or conviction," Dufour said.

"It doesn't matter what you do or don't do, you're going to get a call," said Maine Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note.

Van Note says the memorials are already allowed to remain for a period of time. But just as some families want a site marked, says Van Note, others do not.  And he says some support the shrines at first, but cannot when memorials begin to deteriorate.

"If it's deteroriated and it's looking a little ratty and we don't do it, you'll get a call from people saying you're allowing stuff on the side of the road, clean it up," Van Note said. "If you do it too early, you're not caring for the family, if you do it too late you are reminding people of an accident they want to move on from. It's one of those situations that I'm not sure there is a way to eliminate all pain here."

Van Note says his department is taking no position on the bill. Committee members on boths sides of the aisle say the bill might cause problems than it attempts to solve. Democratic House Chair Mark Dion says while he understands the grief of those who have lost family and friends in highway accidents, the bill makes him uncomfortable.

"I mean, clearly, there's a tradition that's running up the idea that we should provide it legal protection, and I'm not sure as an individual legislator that we should be doing that," Dion said.

No one spoke before the committee in favor of Chase's bill/



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