Frankfort, USA - The Amish could forgo a longstanding traffic safety measure in the name of religious freedom under a measure that could be near final passage in the Kentucky General Assembly.
The House Transportation Committee voted 25-1 on Tuesday to pass a Senate bill that would allow the Amish to use strips of reflective tape on the backs of their horse-drawn buggies rather than bright orange triangles some object to.
The Amish argue that God directs their safety, even on the roads. They say the bright color of the signs calls attention to them, which is against their religion, and the triangular shape represents the Trinity, which they're not allowed to flaunt.
The proposal now goes to the full House for consideration. If approved there, it would return to the Senate for final passage, which could happen within days. Gov. Steve Beshear has not said whether he favors the bill.
State Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, filed the legislation because several Amish men in his western Kentucky district were jailed for refusing to pay fines for not using the orange signs. They have appealed their convictions to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments Thursday.
"This bill is important to all of us," Winters said. "If something is done to challenge my religious beliefs, I hope that somebody would come to my rescue or my people's rescue. But beyond that, my motive is to assure that we have the safest possible environment for them while they're traveling our roads. But it's to protect others, too. You know, it's not just the people in that buggy who could get killed. It's the people in the car who might try to miss them and go into a ditch or hit them and ricochet into a tree."
The bill would allow the drab Amish buggies to be outlined with gray or silver reflective tape that makes them shine in the dark when they reflect car lights. Winters said tests have proven that the reflective tape makes the buggies visible up to 1,000 feet away.
The legislation would go into effect immediately if signed by Gov. Steve Beshear, who hasn't committed either way. If approved, it could make the Supreme Court case moot. Winters said he'd like to see the bill win final passage before Thursday's hearing.
Winters said the Amish already have implemented the requirements of the bill by outlining the backs and sides of their buggies in the reflective tape, as well as putting the tape on the front left corners of the buggies. They've also adopted a provision of the bill that sets parameters for lanterns used on the buggies, requiring one on the left side to be a foot taller than the one on the right.
"There's no question in my mind that the bill would provide a much, much safer environment for the occupants of that buggies as well as those us who are traveling the roads with them," Winters said.