Not so Free Public Services

December 1, 2009
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The “Free public services doctrine,” states taxpayers should share the costs of fire suppression, search and rescue, and law enforcement. But when citizens take advantage of the system, who should pay?

Brian Palmer asks the question, “can government rescuers send you a bill?”, in his article “Let’s see, That’s two Choppers at $5,000 Per Hour…” Recently, states have been changing their minds about free public services. Five states have passed laws allowing government to fine citizens for the misuse of public services: Colorado, Oregon, New Hampshire, California, and Hawaii.
Colorado fined a homeless man $101 million last year for causing a wild fire. When reasonable care is not exercised in Oregon, the government may collect up to $500. In New Hampshire, if a citizen “recklessly or intentionally creates situations requiring an emergency response,” the bill can be up to $10,000. California’s bill can be up to $12,000. Hawaii has no fining limit.

When the family of ‘balloon boy’ Falcon Heene, was found guilty of lying, the state had to make a decision. The cost of the hoax was tens, hundreds, or even thousands of dollars; who should pay?

Five states have laws protecting taxpayers’ money, but this may not be a good idea. While this hoax should not be paid for by taxpayers’, it scares others from calling for help in emergencies. Laws like the ones in place in New Hampshire and Colorado “deters risky behavior and rewards heroes,” but discourages people from calling for help when they need it.

But when law enforcement tires of saving fatigued people on mountains, they knew they couldn’t climb, it seems only fair to bill these people. It’s not right that taxpayers must pay for the careless mistakes of others. While public services should stay free, they should only be used by those who need them.

People who don’t watch out for their own safety should be paying for their actions. No states have money to throw away on people who snow ski out of boundaries, or walk into closed wilderness areas. People should take responsibility for their own actions. Free public services should be used on people who truly are in need.

The citizens of Colorado have a right to be upset about paying the huge bill. The Heene family wanted attention and should not be able to get away with this scandal. They should be fined by the state for every penny that was wasted on search and rescue for the boy who was never missing.





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