Bill would clarify criminality in Bridgegate-like traffic meddling
September will mark one year since access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were closed without warning, snarling traffic for hours over a four-day period. As a direct result of Bridgegate, State Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-Wayne) is sponsoring legislation that would create a new crime of official interference with transportation.
"I'm trying to take what some would view as a murky issue in the law as to what constitutes a crime and what doesn't. Clearly under this bill, it takes what appears to be a fact-pattern we all know about and criminalizes it in black and white," O'Toole said.
Many Democrats believe the lanes were closed in Fort Lee to punish the city's mayor for refusing to endorse Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign. Christie has denied any involvement, and an internal investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
"If the area we're talking about now is not covered by statute (and) people think it's a criminal act, I think it's worth looking at," O'Toole explained.
Under the bill, a public official would also be guilty of the new crime if it can be proven he or she knowingly refrained from performing a duty for the purpose of interfering with traffic patterns. O'Toole admitted that would be difficult to prove.
"The crime of omission, not doing something, the question is - 'What's the standard?' That becomes a little more of a grey area," O'Toole said.
Official interference with transportation would be a fourth degree crime under the bill which is typically punishable by a prison term of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.