Ohio is poised to adopt a new rule that is intended to get tough with truckers and others who are believed to be involved in drug trafficking.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol reports that during a two-year period that ended in February 2012 there were about 70 cases in which hidden compartments were discovered in vehicles suspected of carrying drugs.
The House voted 77-16 on Tuesday, June 12, to advance a bill that targets hidden compartments in vehicles, including large trucks and trailers. Senate lawmakers acted Wednesday to sign off on House changes to the bill clearing the way for SB305 to move to the governor’s desk.
Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law. It is part of an anti-drug trafficking effort outlined by the governor this spring.
Once the bill becomes law, vehicles found to include hidden compartments, with or without drugs, could result in severe consequences for the person behind the wheel, and the owner.
Offenders could face up to 18 months in jail and $5,000 fines. Anyone who has already been convicted of “aggravated trafficking in drugs” would face up to five years in prison and $10,000 fines.
Only compartments added after a vehicle leaves the factory would be affected.
Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, said the bill is needed to meet drug traffickers “head on.”
“The drug trade is an ever-evolving criminal activity and offenders are resorting to sophisticated new ways of deceiving state and local authorities,” Hughes said in a recent statement.
House changes made to the bill include a protection for law-abiding truckers that may build aftermarket-installed compartments. An exemption would apply to “a box, safe, container or other item” added to the vehicle to secure valuables or firearms.
The protection would apply as long as drugs, or drug residue, are not present.
OOIDA officials say such hiding spots are not uncommon for over-the-road drivers. Truckers who travel for days at a time have few options to hide cash they carry as part of operating their business.
“The rights of law-abiding residents to use similar compartments for legal and licensed purposes are preserved through this legislation,” Hughes stated.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Ohio, click here.
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