Highway funding bill on fast track in Missouri Senate

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 | 5:32 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation is on a fast track in the Missouri Senate to make the state comply with federal standards for commercial truckers and drunken driving sentences in an effort to avoid penalties that could dock tens of millions of federal road construction dollars.

The Senate Transportation Committee took the unusual step Wednesday of hearing testimony and approving the legislation all in one day. Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer said he hopes the legislation can be brought up for debate by the full Senate next week.

"There is some immediacy to this," Stouffer, R-Napton, explained to committee members who then voted to advance the bill without dissent.

States face a Jan. 30 deadline to comply with federal mandates to require interstate truck drivers to provide proof from a medical professional that they are healthy enough to drive. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said late last year that as many as one-third of the states, including Missouri, had indicated they might not meet the deadline.

States that fail to comply with the mandate could lose 5 percent of their highway funds — about $30 million in Missouri's case. If they remain out of compliance for a second year, that penalty doubles. But noncompliant states could receive a grace period. The federal agency sent Missouri a letter last year saying that states in violation of the medical certification requirements as of Feb. 1 will have to submit a plan demonstrating "an earnest intent to gain full compliance" on an acceptable timeline or else federal funds could be withheld beginning Oct. 1, 2014.

Stouffer said he hopes the quick legislative action will help show Missouri's intent to comply.

Missouri already had about $20 million of federal funds redirected from road construction to highway safety efforts during the 2011 fiscal year because state law failed to match federal standards for drunken driving penalties. Missouri was one of 15 states failing to meet those standards and will continue to have its funds shifted until it changes its law.

To comply with the federal standards, Missouri's legislation would eliminate some of the reasons for which people with revoked or suspended driver's licenses currently can gain limited driving privileges. Driving no longer would be allowed for medical treatment or to avoid an "an undue hardship" on the person who lost his or her license. The bill also would require people whose licenses were revoked for drunken driving to wait 45 days — instead of 30 days — to gain limited driving privileges.

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