‘Rolling coal’ lawmaker originally wanted stiffer penalties | SteamboatToday.com

‘Rolling coal’ lawmaker originally wanted stiffer penalties

A pickup is seen “rolling coal” during the “March For Our Lives” demonstration Sunday at the Routt County Courthouse.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Colorado lawmaker who advocated to make "rolling coal" illegal was glad to see Steamboat Springs Police Department officers are holding offenders accountable by issuing tickets.

"That's exactly how I think it needs to be used," said state Rep. Joann Ginal, a Fort Collins Democrat.

Steamboat police so far have cited two of the three drivers they suspect blasted demonstrators with black exhaust during the “March For Our Lives” event Saturday at the Routt County Courthouse.

"It's kind of an infringement of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech," Ginal said. "It's really harassment, and to me, a form of bullying."

It took three tries, but Ginal and state Sen. Don Coram from Montrose finally got the "rolling coal" law passed last May. It was then signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in June.

Ginal said she advocated for the bill because of concerns she heard from throughout the state, including Durango, Montrose and Fort Collins. In the past, police tried to use environmental laws to curb drivers from harassing people with exhaust, but the cases were getting thrown out of court.

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In Fort Collins, Ginal said restaurants were losing business because customers did not want to put up with the pranks.

Ginal, herself, said she had coal rolled her way while driving.

"It's happened to me, and I know it's happened to many people," Ginal said.

Restaurant customers, pedestrians, cyclists and those driving hybrid vehicles were all targets.

Cory Christensen worked at the Fort Collins Police Department before taking the chief position in Steamboat.

He said police there dealt with a cruising culture composed of younger people who would spend their nights doing laps around town.

"And, I'm talking hundreds of cars, and it continues to this day," Christensen said.

Besides cruising, "rolling coal" has been an issue.

"We'd get three trucks that would roll through an intersection and turn it completely black," Christensen said.

He said the "rolling coal" law provided a way for police to address the complaints.

"I've been working to stop it for many years," Christensen said. "I think it's dangerous and disrespectful."

The high school student and the 20-year-old man caught rolling coal during the demonstration in Steamboat were fined $100 plus surcharges for a total of $113.50. The offense is a traffic infraction, and those found guilty do not get points taken off their license.

Ginal said her original bill called for a stiffer penalty. The fine was a lower amount, but offenders would have gotten two points taken off their license.

"The original bill in 2016, it did have a little more teeth to it," Ginal said.

She said the bill received pushback from those who felt it would punish truck drivers.

There were also concerns from the agricultural community.

The law that was eventually passed by the legislatures exempts vehicles used for commercial activities as well as those used for agricultural purposes.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.