1/3/2019Oregon: Federal Judge Clears Red Light Camera Critic
Final ruling strips Oregon board of ability to regulate the word engineer following attempt by agency to silence red light camera critic.
A federal judge on Friday rolled back the power of a state board that attempted to use occupational licensing laws to silence a red light camera critic. US Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman stripped the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying's power to punish engineers who call themselves "engineers" without first paying $400 to register with the state.
Engineer Mats Jarlstrom kicked off the controversy when he sent an email criticizing the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) formula that, he argued, produces dangerously short yellow times while also increasing profit for red light cameras. The board fought back by imposing a $500 fine on Jarlstrom for the crime of practicing engineering without a license. Jarlstrom filed an appeal, and after a series of preliminary orders in Jarlstrom's favor, the court on Friday issued a permanent order blocking the board from interfering with free speech.
"Jarlstrom may study, communicate publicly about, and communicate privately about, his theories relating to traffic lights as long as plaintiff Jarlstrom's communications occur outside the context of an employment or contractual relationship," Judge Beckerman ruled.
The court found that the state law allowing the board to regulate the use of the word "engineer" threatened the First Amendment. Such licensing laws are intended to prevent untrained individuals from fraudulently selling their services as if they were trained professionals. The word "engineer," however is used in many contexts. Jarlstrom is an engineer by training and occupation -- he just was not certified as such by the state. The court found the board had abused its authority by insisting on only one meaning for the term engineer.
"The record before this court demonstrates that the board has repeatedly targeted individuals for using the title 'engineer' in non-commercial contexts, including core political speech such as campaigning for public office and advocacy against a local ballot initiative," Judge Beckerman observed. "There is an easy fix to this First Amendment problem: strike the word 'engineer' from Oregon Revised Statutes Sections 672.002(2) and 672.007(1)(b)."
The court-imposed change to the law means the board can now only sanction individuals who call themselves "professional engineers" in a commercial context without the appropriate certification. Jarlstrom, who was represented by the Institute for Justice, was thrilled by this outcome.
"This case has always been about more than just me," Jarlstrom said in a statement. "Thousands of Oregonians are engineers -- even though we have no reason to be licensed as 'professional engineers' -- and we are now free to use the word 'engineer' to describe ourselves."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 350k PDF file at the source link below.