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Cruise Control 

Arizona lawmakers consider a ban, pushed by Phoenix cops, against the 'unauthorized assembly of vehicles'

We gonna fly away, plan to go my way
I love it when we're cruising together
--"Cruisin," Smokey Robinson.

There is no loving of cruising in the Arizona Legislature, currently being driven by the Phoenix Police Department to adopt a novel law prohibiting the "unauthorized assembly of vehicles."

No joke.

The House of Representatives gave overwhelming and speedy passage last week to HB 2136, which states that "a person shall not participate in an unauthorized assembly of vehicles that restrains the movement of traffic and impedes either deployment of emergency or law enforcement vehicles or services (or) access to a business or residence."

State law books are full of laws prohibiting interference and impediment to police, fire, ambulance and other emergency traffic, but Phoenix police want this law to crack down on cruisers.

House members passed the measure by a 41-17 margin last week. Two members did not vote. Within Pima County's 12-member delegation, only Republicans Randy Graf, of Green Valley, and Marian McClure, from the eastside, voted against the proposed cruiser crackdown.

Republican state Rep. John Nelson, of Glendale, is the prime sponsor.

Tucson police are not along for this ride.

C. Mary Okoye, the director of city lobbying as head of intergovernmental relations, said city officials are not impressed. Tucson police were asked to join Phoenix police last summer in meetings with state officials, Okoye said, but have not pushed for the law.

Still, that didn't stop Tom Prezelski, a local Democrat who was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the House last year, who signed up as a sponsor of the bill.

Prezelski said he was supportive because cruisers from throughout the Phoenix area gathered in such numbers that they clogged streets and access for the mostly Mexican-American Maryvale neighborhood.

"It was very difficult for residents to use their own streets," Prezelski said.

Tucson critics should hold their fire, Prezelski said, because nothing could be implemented without approval by the City Council.

The bill was drafted to require local governments to pass their own ordinances on "unauthorized assembly" of vehicles. The City Council, beset by chronic budget deficits topping $26 million, has shown zero interest cracking down on such gatherings of cars.

That makes the bill, now under consideration by the state Senate, no less objectionable to Mark Spear, a partner in Pryde Business Systems, a computer, business equipment and point-of-sale store on East Speedway Boulevard.

"It is onerous; it is unnecessary; and it is as racial as you can be," with targets of low riders and classics perfected and driven by minorities, said Spear, who grew up at a time when cops were kids' friends, and disputes between cops and cruisers were of the American Graffiti sort, like arguments about the bumper height on street rods and other hobby cars.

If passed by the Legislature and embraced by Tucson or other local governments, the law would slap a fine up to $100 on drivers who put their cars in an "unauthorized" assembly of vehicles. More troubling for Spear is the provision that allows for immediate towing.

"This is being done by the laziness of the Phoenix police who want to crack down on cruisers and to satisfy neighborhoods," Spear said.

It is being "sold," Spear said, innocuously as "just another tool in the law enforcement toolbox."

The real objective, Spear said, "is for police to be as intimidating as possible. It is onerous and a dirty little piece of legislation. Please explain the difference between 'unlawful assembly' of vehicles and rush hour outside my store at Speedway and Swan."

Spear, who has monitored and challenged a variety of laws that he says erode citizens' right to drive, said this "unlawful assembly" measure violates the First Amendment right to "peaceably assemble," the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment right to not be deprived of property without due process.

Low riders are not the only ones whose style will be crimped, Spear said.

Car club members who have crafted roadsters and T-buckets could be stopped, ticketed and towed as they cruise, for example, on a Saturday afternoon from a gathering spot to a restaurant or location of a car show. The drivers of tricked-out 2 Fast 2 Furious cars also could see the end of their park-and-show schedules on Fridays and Saturdays at East Speedway businesses.

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