The Alabama Legislature wrapped up its work for the year April 18, but not before approving several bills of interest. The Senate unanimously approved a bill that is intended to help ensure the state is in compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
Sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, the measure would prohibit deferred prosecution or deferred judgments in traffic cases involving commercial drivers.
The bill – HB824 – would prohibit commercial drivers convicted of a traffic offense, even if it occurred in a personal vehicle, from being eligible to keep their driving record clean by completing a driver safety course.
According to the legislative analysis on the bill, compliance with the regulations would put the state in line to receive $30.6 million annually in federal highway dollars.
The Alabama House already approved the bill on a 67-26 vote. It has been forwarded to Gov. Bob Riley, who is expected to sign it.
If it is indeed signed into law, commercial drivers with one moving traffic violation could have their license suspended. Alabama law now requires two moving violations to be committed before possible suspension.
Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, voted for the bill in part to secure federal highway funding for the state. However, he was not happy about the ramifications it could have on truck drivers.
“He loses his license to drive his own truck, then what’s he going to do? With the cost of fuel now, they’re barely breaking even. So, now he’s got to go hire a driver or get his truck repossessed. It’s just bad legislation,” Lindsey told WSFA-TV in Montgomery.
The commercial drivers bill isn’t the only piece of legislation that has been sent to Gov. Riley’s desk for his signature.
The general fund budget signed by the governor will add 100 new troopers. Riley also signed a bill for a pay increase for state troopers.
In addition to helping recruit new troopers, Riley said the new rules will keep current officers from defecting to other agencies.
“Recruiting and retaining state troopers has become increasingly difficult because a growing number of sheriff’s departments and local police departments are paying more than the state,” Riley said in a written statement.
The governor said the new law – SB85 – and a pay increase that is part of this year’s budget “will help us address this inequity and improve upon it.”
The state ranks ninth out of 14 southern states in annual pay for entry-level state troopers. The pay increase approved by the governor will move Alabama up to fifth. Troopers and corporals also will receive a 10 percent raise and sergeants and lieutenants will see a 7.5 percent boost in pay.
Another bill signed into law by the governor means Alabama drivers soon will be able to purchase license tags that display the words “God Bless America.” Riley signed a bill – HB5 – creating the new plates that could be ready by Oct. 1.
Currently, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas have the tags, but they are specialty tags that require an extra payment, The Associated Press reported. The Alabama tag would not carry an extra charge.
A couple other bills of interest to truckers, however, failed to gain passage during the session.
One bill, HB36, would have allowed law enforcement officers to arrest a person for any misdemeanor traffic offense where there is probable cause. Under existing state law, an officer is not generally authorized to arrest a person for a misdemeanor traffic offense that is not committed in the presence of the officer.
Another bill would have allowed police to install cameras at traffic lights to catch those running red lights.
Under HB35, a ticket would have been mailed to the vehicle owner after authorities review photos. A violation would not have counted as points against a driver’s license suspension or be used by any insurance company to determine premiums.
The bill would have made the owner of the vehicle presumptively responsible but provide procedures to transfer responsibility to another person who was operating the vehicle or to contest the notice of violation in municipal court.
Both bills were awaiting consideration in committee when the session ended, effectively killing them for the year.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor