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Snow emergencies bring government restrictions

EAST BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 2: A woman carries a shovel full of snow on Bayswater Street January 2, 2014 in East Boston, Massachusetts. An overnight blizzard is due to hit along the Northeast U.S. with six to twelve inches of accumlutation expected in the Boston area along with costal flooding. Darren McCollester/Getty Images

The Mackinac Center's Tom Gantert explores government action from within the Vortex of Doom:

In the midst of the winter storm this week, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero declared a snow emergency, which prohibited "non-essential" commercial, private and public travel on city roads.

It raised questions about how much authority the government should have to ban travel during bad snow storms.

In Indianapolis, Mayor Greg Ballard declared a "red" travel emergency Jan. 5 that made it illegal for residents to go out on city streets except in an emergency. Indianapolis also has an "orange" travel emergency that allows for "essential" travel only.

One constitutional expert said cities are within their rights to ban travel on city streets during emergencies.

"There is not much of a constitutional challenge here," said Trevor Burns, a research fellow for the Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute. "Driving is not a right, it is a privilege. The roads are public property and the government can reasonably manage its property for safety. Moreover, obeying such commands is a condition for having license. Now, if they were prohibiting you from driving on your own land then that would be a different story."

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