Guy Fined $500 For Criticizing Government Without A Permit Sues Oregon Licensing Board

from the with-a-special-appearance-by-[STATE-REVENUE-GENERATOR-A] dept

Government entities tend to dislike people who criticize red light cameras. There's little evidence supporting the theory they make driving safer, but there's plenty of data out there showing just how profitable they can be, especially with a little fine tuning.

When someone takes it upon themselves to dig into traffic cameras, they make few friends at city hall. Oregon resident Mats Jarlstrom's interest in red light cameras was piqued like so many others: by receiving a ticket. Unlike some others, Jarlstrom has a background in electronic engineering and the inherent inquisitiveness to follow through on a thorough examination of yellow light timing. He did some math and came to the conclusion the timing was off.

In his view, the leading mathematical formula for calculating the proper length of yellow lights (dating back to 1959) is incomplete, because it fails to account for how drivers decelerate before making a right-hand turn. Mats’s revised theory addresses that issue; his formula is based on the 1959 model but also factors in the time needed for turning drivers to clear the intersection.

Jarlstrom's apparent mistake was not keeping these findings to himself. He spoke to local news stations about his research and presented his conclusions to a national conference of transportation engineers. The only entity that didn't want to hear anything about his yellow light research was his local government. He tried to present his findings to the state traffic engineering body but found it less than receptive to new ideas.

In response to Jarlstrom's exercise of his First Amendment rights, the Oregon state engineering licensing board opened an investigation. Unsurprisingly, it arrived at the conclusion that it hadn't handed out an engineering license to Jarlstrom. Surprisingly, this effort wasted nearly two years of taxpayer time and money.

According to the Board, Mats illegally practiced engineering without a license every time he “critique[d]” the existing traffic-light system and shared his ideas with “members of the public.” Even his e-mail to the creator of the original formula was ruled illegal. So was his correspondence with local media.

Weird. Stupid. But at least the licensing law is narrowly-tailored, right?

The practice of engineering is defined to cover “any . . . creative work requiring engineering education, training and experience.” And the law is just as sweeping as it sounds. Even the Oregon Attorney General’s Office has admitted that it’s “a broad definition which may have a particular meaning to those persons trained and knowledgeable in engineering but may be unclear to anyone else.

Having found something to use against a critic of outdated traffic light measuring systems, the Oregon licensing board went all out. It told Jarlstrom he could no longer refer to himself as an "engineer" (despite his BS in electronic engineering). It compiled a list of nine violations and fined him $500.

It also nailed down something else: the starring role of defendant in an upcoming civil rights lawsuit, as the Institute for Justice reports:

Today he filed a lawsuit [PDF] against the board in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state’s requirement that citizens must obtain an engineering license in order to publicly debate anything involving “engineering.”

IJ points out the board's regulation of speech is not just unconstitutional, it's ridiculous.

Criticizing the government’s engineering isn’t a crime; it’s a constitutional right,” said Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Mats in the lawsuit. “Under the First Amendment, you don’t need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision, you don’t need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don’t need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights. Whether or not you use math, criticizing the government is a core constitutional right that cannot be hampered by onerous licensing requirements.”

In essence, the Oregon board fined Mats Jarlstrom for doing math and then talking about it. Apparently, no one's allowed to do their own math and speak publicly about it without the express, licensed permission of the state's regulators. While the board is there to prevent non-engineers from harming the public by building faulty bridges and buildings (or, more to the point, fiddling with traffic light timing to drivers' detriment), it shouldn't be able to keep anyone from discussing their own research or referring to their engineering background and expertise.

Jarlstrom simply wanted his findings to be considered. He had no power to alter traffic light timing or otherwise pose some sort of safety risk to Oregon drivers. And yet, the licensing board subjected him to a lengthy investigation and told him what he could and couldn't discuss publicly. Apparently certain topics of discussion are off limits to the general public unless the government ok's it through a very long and expensive process.

Like many government things, the underlying concept is good, but the execution is horrible. And, in this case, the government was less concerned with the safety of the public than with shutting up a critic poking holes in long-held government theories.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 10:54am

    oregon, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 26 Apr 2017 @ 10:54am

    If the whole First Amendment argument fails, he can at least sue the the Oregon licensing board if any of the members involved do not have an engineering license...whatever the hell that is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      David (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 1:27pm

      Re: Engineering license

      The State of Oregon does provide Engineering licenses. They are based on civil engineering requirements.

      As far back as the 70's they were pushing for software developers to require procuring a license from them. Of course, they are a very math centric solution (the board, not all SW devs) and one suspects that the demise of Fortran beyond its intended (and very successful) purpose of scientific programming let those efforts sputtering for air.

      Fear not, as far as I have been able to determine this particular bureaucracy has little need for air. They have their heads located in a place where (clean) air is rarely provided.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 10:57am

    And people wonder why allowing the government to decide who is and is not a journalist is a bad thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 26 Apr 2017 @ 10:59am

    Coming up next:

    People getting sued for stating "I am Spartacus" without being registered as a slave.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 26 Apr 2017 @ 5:56pm

      Re: Coming up next:

      ...it's been awhile since I saw the movie, but I'm pretty sure all the people who said "I am Spartacus" received a significantly worse punishment than being sued.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 27 Apr 2017 @ 11:23am

        Re: Re: Coming up next:

        As far as I remember, they let their valid slave registration slide with premeditation: it wasn't merely a case of them having missed a deaddeaddeadline. If you don't take decisive action, soon you'll be back to the Middle Ages.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 11:13am

    Holy crap!

    That's a dangerous law! You can see why they had it in the first place - to make a buck off people trying to make a living as an engineer. If they were worried about safety, they'd have bond requirements, not licenses. Anywho, tons of programmers would fall afoul of that law as it's written.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 11:32am

    This is dangerously close to a "critical thinking" permit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 11:38am

    lICENSE?

    I dont need no stinking license..

    A license to politic would be nice..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 3:30pm

      Re: lICENSE?

      It's called a vote...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 27 Apr 2017 @ 4:43am

        Re: Re: lICENSE?

        No, a vote happens after they start politicking.

        What ECA is referring to is that if it is constitutional to require a license in order to exercise the right to freedom of speech to make a truthful and factual statement (with an attached mathematical proof even), then it cannot be unconstitutional to require such a license (and accompanying competence test) to become a politician.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2017 @ 8:02am

        Re: Re: lICENSE?

        Wrong, its called party membership.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 11:40am

    A P.E. stamp is generally only required on IFC-grade documents covering the imminent construction of something that affects public safety.

    Anyway, it's usually someone else's actual work that gets stamped by the engineer in charge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Cvnk (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 11:49am

    According to my calculations these idiots are in for a world of shit.

    (I've played Space Engineers so I consider myself an engineer)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 26 Apr 2017 @ 11:59am

    There is nothing...

    There is nothing the government cannot screw up. If you take any well oiled process and give it to the government, within a short time it will cost substantially more and produce substantially less.

    Same thing with ANYTHING the government subsidizes. Once you take free market out of the equation and return on investment, efficiency goes out the window.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:04pm

    Must be some damn good math.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:24pm

    TIL: in Oregon you need a permit to practice math.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:29pm

      Re:

      Only 'unapproved' math, as odds are quite good that if the numbers he came up with had shown that the red light camera system was fair and the math was solid they never would have gone after him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Kamen (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 2:39pm

        Re: Re:

        If his numbers would have shown that the red light camera system was fair the board would most likely use him as an "expert" witness in other cases. Saint or sinner, it's all a matter of perspective.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:26pm

    We can't fine you for the truth, but we can and will beat you over the head with a lie

    Yeah, I'm calling shenanigans, in particular the excuse they used to fine him. This strikes me as a 'You made the rest of us look bad' retaliatory action, where he had the audacity to make public something that makes people in powerful positions look bad, and even worse threatened a lucrative and easy source of money, so they fined him to try to shut him up.

    Hopefully the judge sees this as the blatant attempt to silence someone that it is and hands out a hearty benchslap to the board.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:28pm

    What about the school?

    despite his BS in electronic engineering

    Is the school being fined as an accomplice for issuing this degree to him without confirming that he had a license?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 1:28pm

      Re: What about the school?

      Don't go giving these imbeciles any more idiotic ideas about policing free speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 2:24pm

      Re: What about the school?

      With Engineering, you get the degree, then you spend a few years as an engineering technologist, then you file your log books with the board, then you pay them money and wait for them to give you your certificate and stamp.

      You need the degree first; often a P.Eng, not just a BS.

      Engineering boards value actual experience as much as classroom training.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        OGquaker, 27 Apr 2017 @ 12:46am

        Re:

        ''Engineering boards value actual experience as much as classroom training.''
        A childhood friend living on 400 acres in Oregon made his $millions as a radio and microwave inventor (he says that Politicians and Police should be castrated as a first condition of their employment).
        I've got 60 years using math to build things that i designed, mostly on-offs for customers, my father got 9 patents and the Legion Of Merit, and both my grandfathers built factories and an electrical sub-stations (for one of California's still successful Communist power companies)
        All without education past 8th or 12th grade. Are we In?
        Or am looking at bankruptcy?
        Elon Musk better keep overflying OR.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 28 Apr 2017 @ 12:47am

          Re: Re:

          Shrug. You don't need a degree when you defined the field. Donald Knuth ("The Art of Computer Programming" Donald Knuth, the guy who wrote the TeX typesetting program because he considered the proposed computer typesetting of his second edition of TAoCP as opposed to the previous manual typesetting a blight on computers) had no degree in Computer Science, "just" mathematics.

          A degree certifies that you can successfully trace the footsteps of giants.

          And depending on the college or school, it may not be the worst starting lane to becoming one.

          Most people holding their own in a profession for which they have no formal education polish their stories of having outclassed people boasting degrees of PhD upwards.

          I mean, I have my own story where I gave up on improving a map data processing program optimized by some CSc PhD to the degree where it ran 1 instead of 2 days and asked my employer (I was a jobbing student) to be allowed to rewrite the principal core from scratch. Which was several weeks, not a trivial investment even in student hours. Once the stuff passed compiler and ran without crashing, it took me an additional day of debugging to figure out why it just terminated after 2 minutes of running time. Not being able to find the problem in the program flow, I tried debugging by visualizing the output data, only to find that the program terminated because it was actually done.

          That was sobering. Of course, I had a long history of working with and on computers before enrolling in university. And the CSc PhD would likely have been qualified better to calculate the asymptotic running time of both his and my version. But being able to evaluate a tool still does not mean that you pick the right one for the job.

          Of course, this was in the age of C. With C++ and STL, the likelihood that those graduates say "I know $x would be better in theory but it's so tedious to program" has gone down. Basically, they are able to work less than a scientist (never mind the degree title) or artisan these days and more than an engineer, relying on proper tools crafted by the top of the crop.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:38pm

    Who's an engineer?

    In some theory, when calculations involve the public safety, a licensed professional engineer should be involved.

    In practice, a PE license is more like a taxi cab medallion. Very difficult to get if you aren't in the club -- remember you need professional references from club members!

    By that theory, an awful lot of programmers and others working for industry under the "industrial practice exemption" should have licenses. The automotive sudden acceleration disaster (see the Barr report -- it was incompetent software engineering) illustrates well.

    Now, assuming that there should be an official badge of "PE", and the distinction is important here, the right solution here would not to be to fine the guy...it should be to require him to disclose that he doesn't have the badge in a reasonably prominent place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:42pm

    When they go after the messenger, it is almost certain that the messenger is telling a truth that they do not want heard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    intelligent gluteus maximus (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:42pm

    If only ...

    <sarcasm> If only this were legal, our new president could fine all of his critics and settle the national debt in no time </sarcasm>

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:45pm

    Everyone repeat after me

    Hey Oregon, I am an engineer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thinking Permit, 26 Apr 2017 @ 12:46pm

    Botman

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=17pyi8-_oUFwgsjGSsLohuV_EeMdtYdxMZg

    Link to relevant drawing/art/cartoon summarizing our sad state of "officialdom."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 1:15pm

    Welcome to Oregon, sigh.

    I often describe Oregon to outsiders, and the occasional visitor, as being essentially psychotic. Portland and a significant swath of the Willamette Valley is liberal. Definitely very Blue in our current political sense. Nearly all of the rest of the state is conservative.

    The red sections of the state are sparsely populated and provide a higher total number of electors. Thus many of the laws puking from Salem (our dubious capitol) have very strong punishment based solutions. If solutions they can even be called.

    The good news is I live in Portland, not in 'what Constitution' rural Oregon. It's essential news item is that if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. Possibly less in Spring and Fall.

    Medical Marijuana is now balanced with recreational use. However our very large prison system employs large numbers of conservative voters and the chance of a pardon for existing law scofflaws is unlikely.

    My opinions are definitely not shared by much of my state and are thus my own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ActualOregonian, 27 Apr 2017 @ 3:09pm

      Re: Welcome to Oregon, sigh.

      This is the most accurate and saddening description of Oregon I have seen in a while. Most everyone I know lives in the liberal Portland bubble and thinks a lot of the state agrees and that Salem is just slow in adjusting to what the people want, but that is definitely not the case. Most of my family is from the Albany/Sweethome area and they are vehemently in support of Trump and hail him as the second coming (I exaggerate to you not). Everyone they live around agrees with them and everyone who doesn't, moves to Portland and only socializes with them on holidays (sorry Grandma). This has only made the divide way worse so our state feels kind of fractured into two main factions that are incredibly polarized.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 1:30pm

    psst . . .

    if you wanna design a non-round duct large enough that it flows approximately as well as a round duct of a given diameter, use this thumbnail equation:

    DIAM = (4 x AREA) / PERIMETER

    where DIAM is the desired round-duct diameter and AREA and PERIMETER are what you are proposing to use. ignore any really tight corners as they won't allow much flow.

    pass it on, but keep it on the QT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 1:43pm

    Engineer is as engineer does

    He who discovers scientific principles is a scientist.

    He who designs things using the discoveries of science is an engineer.

    He who builds things is a technician.

    License schmicense and degrees be dammed.

    He who does, is.

    (Yes, that goes for doctors too. Just don't call yourself a "licensed" physician if you're not, and it's fine with me.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 7:10pm

      Re: Engineer is as engineer does

      Him who mountain crush him no
      Him who sun him stop him no
      Him who hammer him break him no
      Him who fire him fear him no
      Him who raise him head above him heart
      Him diamond

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    D.C. Pathogen (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 1:59pm

    Hey Oregon, I am an engineer!

    And that stick has been improperly placed in your rear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 5:36pm

      Re: Hey Oregon, I am an engineer!

      Whoa, There! You are an engineer (yea, sure, let me see your license) not a doctor so you can't appropriately tell if a stick is improperly placed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 2:58pm

    > Hey Oregon, I am an engineer!

    > And that stick has been improperly placed in your rear.

    And an engineer knows how to use that stick as a lever to help them pull their craniums out of their rectums.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GySgtDad (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 3:22pm

    Oregon Board Liable Personally?

    This strikes me as pure protectionism — outlawed by SCOTUS. It will be fun if the members of the board get sued individually for antitrust violations.

    North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_State_Board_of_Dental_Examiners_v._FTC

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 3:33pm

    Se how this plan backfired?

    I had never heard of the guy nor of his findings.

    And now... boom!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 4:01pm

    We're talking the state where it's illegal to pump your own gas, so.. yeah...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ActualOregonian, 27 Apr 2017 @ 3:05pm

      Re:

      Ha! This one has always driven me bonkers. I have sat at the pump for more than 30 minutes before just waiting for someone to come help me because I couldn't legally do it myself. It is absolutely ridiculous. Also, anytime I go on a road trip to Washington not alone, I have to teach my adult friends how to pump their own gas. We are all in our 20's we should know how to pump gas...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 8:42am

        Re: Re:

        I never thought of that side of it! I lived in Washington, and I got yelled at a few times in Oregon for trying to do what I was used to doing. lol

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 6:47pm

    "The practice of engineering is defined to cover “any . . . creative work requiring engineering education, training and experience.”"

    Isn't this kind of a self-defeating definition? I mean, if the guy performed the work without having engineering education, then the work clearly did not require it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Go5 (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 7:58pm

    Oregon Constitution, Article 1 Section 8

    No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2017 @ 1:07am

    I think at times like these, when the government agents are so very wrong, and after they get slapped by the court for their incompetent malicious acts, anyone on that board who voted to fine this guy needs to lose their job and never be allowed to hold a government job ever again.

    If you are so completely uninformed about basic Constitutional rights, you shouldn't be able to hold office anywhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2017 @ 1:15am

    Isn't is interesting that they didn't go after him for being wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 27 Apr 2017 @ 6:10am

    Hm... wonder if this ploy can be used...

    ... to call out the B.S. that is the H-1B game. Lord knows I have worked with a series of folks labeled "Engineers" that could not get a P.E. License because of their immigration status. Then again, given the amount of work I have seen produced from drawings with nary a single state stamp - it will most likely be a fool's errand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dirkmaster (profile), 27 Apr 2017 @ 11:58am

    So, I got a question

    Are all physical science teachers in the state licensed engineers? That definition would certainly sound like they'd need to be. And users of CAD programs, or Makers?

    Maybe if Trump is so into getting rid of regulations, he should look at abolishing these kinds of "licensing boards".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2017 @ 11:10am

      Re: So, I got a question

      I mean, abolishing the boards isn't so much the trouble - there's a very valid case for the "if you're going to give us a plan for a building or a bridge (etc) to be built, we want to make sure that you actually know what the hell you're doing" purpose of a PE license.

      It's using said bureaucracy (and not for the first time in OR, from other articles I read about this case) as a bludgeon to try and shut up the speech you don't like that's the issue...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonomous Professional Engineer, 27 Apr 2017 @ 3:57pm

    Not the first time

    I am guessing the Oregon Board will loose this lawsuit.

    There was a somewhat similar case in New Mexico awhile back. The NM Board lost that case. Here is a link to the Court of Appeals ruling:
    http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nm-court-of-appeals/1635507.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 27 Apr 2017 @ 6:22pm

    Where is math formula?

    Please include formula in article too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Apr 2017 @ 1:38pm

    there is another flaw with speed cameras. once these are located on the side of road and at an angle against the vehicle, these give false reading. angle changes with movement of approaching car, sufficiently to give different readings each time beam is calculated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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