FRANKFORT — The Amish no longer will face jail time in Kentucky for refusing to mark their horse-drawn buggies with slow-moving-vehicle emblems that they object to on religious grounds.
Gov. Steve Beshear signed a bill into law Wednesday that allows the Amish to use reflective silver or white tape on their buggies rather than the traditional fluorescent orange signs that make the buggies more visible to motorists.
Several Amish farmers in Western Kentucky had served jail time for refusing to use the emblems. They said the triangular shape represented the Trinity, which they are not allowed to display, and that the fluorescent orange went against the norms of their religion.
"I think we were able to fashion a solution that helped folks with their religious issues but at the same time still maintained the standard of safety that we have to have on our highways," Beshear said.
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Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, said the signing turned Wednesday into a day of celebration not just for the Amish but for police, prosecutors and judges who jailed the otherwise law-abiding Kentuckians.
"It will be a burden from the shoulders of the Amish, but also will lift a burden from law enforcement people and others who are forced into doing some things that most of them would not want to do," Winters said. "All of us will be relieved."
The law carries an emergency clause that makes it take effect immediately.
Not all lawmakers favored the law. A handful feared that exempting the Amish from using the traditional slow-moving-vehicle emblems might make it more difficult for motorists to spot the buggies.
Rep. Fred Nesler, D-Mayfield, said that while the tape would work well at night by reflecting car headlights, it would do nothing to make the buggies visible during daylight hours.
"I talked with the Transportation Cabinet about that bill, and they've assured me that we will be able to maintain the safety on the highways with the approach that was taken in the bill," Beshear said. "So, with that assurance I went on and signed the bill."
In Amish communities nationwide, fatal collisions between automobiles and buggies aren't uncommon. The most recent one in Kentucky involved an SUV that crashed into the back of a buggy in Cub Run in November, killing the 18-year-old Amish driver, according w authorities. Several months earlier, officials reported, a tractor-trailer ran into the back of buggy near Hopkinsville, killing an Amish child and injuring three others.
Winters said the Amish already have been doing what the legislation requires by voluntarily outlining the backs and sides of their buggies in the reflective tape, as well as putting the tape on the front left corners of the buggies. They've also adopted a provision of the bill that sets parameters for lanterns used on the buggies, requiring the one on the left side to be a foot taller than the one on the right.