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Give seniors a break

April 09, 1999

In the past we've supported Maryland's vehicle emissions testing program because rejecting it would cost the state federal highway money and force local industries to bear a larger share of the burden of cleaning up the air. And we all know that when industries' costs go up, it puts local jobs at risk.

That said, we must disagree with the update of the emissions-testing program now making its way through the final few days of the 1999 General Assembly session.

As amended, the House version of the bill would eliminate a testing exemption for 60,000 elderly motorists, an exemption the Senate wants included. It would also raise the amount of cash that someone whose vehicle doesn't pass must spend on repairs to $450. Both are unfair to senior citizens.

The loss of seniors' test exemption is especially unfair because as written, the bill would exempt only those seniors who drive less than 5,000 miles per year. These are the people who are trying to maintain some measure of independence and who drive out of necessity, to the grocery, the pharmacy, the doctor's office and probably, once a week, to a house of worship.

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These are not the folks who drive for pleasure, cruising the Dual Highway at night to show off their shiny paint jobs and custom wheels. They're the grandmothers and grandfathers whose driving days are coming to a close, but who don't want to turn in their keys just yet.

And for those senior citizens whose cars fail, that $450 charge would be one hardship piled on top of another. Again, these are people who are past their peak earning years, who may be nursing an old car along because they're reluctant (or financially unable) to buy a new one.

As we said, as long as the federal government holds the whip hand, some form of this emissions-testing program must exist, if only to keep industries' costs down and local jobs secure. But the seniors who have done so much for this state (and who drive so little) deserve a pass on this test.

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