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Legislation gets a rare defeat by a vote of the full chamber, where bills usually pass once out of committee.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Flaggers control highway traffic as crews clear debris from the road in the aftermath of a heavy ice storm that pelted much of the Willamette Valley in February 2021.The Oregon Senate, in a rare rejection on Thursday, April 8, voted down a requirement for drivers to have their car headlights on when they are on a highway.

Six Democrats joined 10 Republicans to defeat Senate Bill 166, which would have made it a Class B traffic violation punishable by a fine of $265. Headlights are required from sunset to sunrise, as is the case in all states.

The bill would not have changed a requirement for motorcycles and mopeds to operate with lights on at all times.

"The idea is good; the fine is excessive," Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose said.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, said she was all in favor of traffic safety.

"But the broadness of this bill and the risk as primary enforcement of this being used for pretext stops concern me," she said.

She said she would accept it if it were a secondary offense, assuming the driver were stopped for another reason.

Sen. Kayse Jama, a Democrat from Portland who is Black, said: "I worry about people who may be profiled based on who they are and when they drive on our highways. Of course, there is the cost issue as well for low-income people."

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the definition of "highway" in state law is broader than the popular conception of interstates or divided highways.

Other Democrats who voted against it were Sens. Ginny Burdick of Portland and Jeff Golden of Ashland.

Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said he worried about people driving older-model cars whose headlights do not shut off automatically or their cars do not give off an audible warning that their lights are on.

"The fact that they are going to drive to the grocery store and do some shopping, then come out in a couple of hours and their car battery is going to be dead because they forgot to turn them off, is going to leave a lot of people older than me stranded," he said.

The bill's floor manager, Democratic Sen. Lee Beyer of Springfield, sponsored the bill at the request of a constituent who lives on McKenzie Highway. Highway 242 connects Highway 126, which runs from Springfield, over McKenzie Pass, with Sisters; it is closed in winter.

Under Oregon's legislative process, most bills pass once committees advance them. Exceptions occur in the joint budget committee if the bills carry big price tags and the programs cannot be financed.

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