Texas Senate OKs greater truck enforcement

| 3/23/2007

The Texas Legislature only meets in regular session once every two years, but when the legislators do gather in Austin, they churn out quite a bit of legislation for consideration. Several truck-related bills have received attention in the statehouse during the current session.

One legislative package covers topics that include truck enforcement, English-only license testing and criminal history record checks.

The Senate unanimously approved one bill that is intended to allow more police to enforce truck rules. Texas law now allows police in cities with populations of 100,000 or more to enforce commercial motor vehicle safety standards. Police in cities with populations of 25,000 or more also are allowed to enforce the CMV safety standards as long as they are located in counties with populations of at least two million.

Cities must be certified from the Texas Department of Public Safety to enforce the safety standards.

Sponsored by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the bill - SB545 - would allow police in cities with populations of 50,000 or more to enforce the safety standards. It also would allow police in cities with populations of 25,000 or more and located in counties with populations of at least 500,000 to enforce the standards.

Supporters say the changes to state law would allow an additional 43 cities to become eligible to enforce truck rules.

While lawmakers reacted favorably to the truck enforcement measure, the two other bills in the package didn't make it out of committee.

At the urging of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, one bill - SB546 - was an attempt to deal with the requirement to speak and read English as a condition for the issuance of commercial driver's licenses.

Also sponsored by Carona, the bill would have required the knowledge test to be offered only in English. The Department of Public Safety also would have been required to test applicants' ability to speak and read English. Applicants' ability to understand traffic signs and signals written in English also would have been required.

Supporters said the lack of English comprehension for some truck drivers is a matter of public safety. They also said it is a significant barrier to communication at weigh stations.

Opponents said there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers. They also voiced concern that adopting the strict standards would push certain trucking companies to go "underground" to hire people to sit behind the wheels of trucks.

In the end, the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee opted to hold off on making a decision on the matter until the federal government gives states more direction on English-only testing.

One other bill offered by Carona sidelined by the committee sought to authorize the Texas Department of Transportation to revoke or suspend motor carrier registrations if carriers fail to conduct required drug or alcohol testing on employees who hold commercial driver's licenses.

Motor carriers also would have been required to conduct criminal history checks on drivers already employed, prospective drivers or leased drivers.

An analysis of the bill - SB547 - indicates it would require an additional 618,800 criminal history records checks be conducted in the first year. Nearly 13,000 checks would be need annually thereafter.

- By Keith Goble, satte legislative editor