Missouri bill would mandate English-only CDL tests

| 1/8/2008

A bill in the Missouri House would call for trucker-hopefuls to prove they have a firm grasp of the English language to obtain a commercial driver’s license. It is one of several efforts of interest to truck drivers in the Show-Me State.

House Transportation Chairman Neal St. Onge, R-Ballwin, introduced a bill – HB1420 – that would require the written test to be offered only in English. Applicants’ ability to understand traffic signs and signals written in English also would be required. They would be prohibited from using interpreters or translators while taking the test.

St. Onge said he is concerned that people are allowed to drive trucks on Missouri roads without a command of the English language. He pointed out that federal regulations require applicants to be able to read and speak English sufficiently to get a CDL.

Opponents say there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers. They also voice concern that adopting the strict standards would push certain trucking companies to go “underground” to hire people to sit behind the wheel of trucks.

Advocates for the English standard say it’s a matter of safety.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is encouraged by the pursuit in Missouri and other states to make sure trucker hopefuls can communicate in English.

“It’s a great thing,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs. “All states should be doing it.”

He also said that making the English requirement standard for both portions of the test is vital. “It’s the only way you’re really going to know for sure (applicants can communicate in English).”

Craig cautioned that states allowing interpreters to aid test takers clouds the results. “How do you know the interpreter isn’t giving them the answer?” he asked.

A separate bill is intended to get tough with businesses that hire illegal immigrants. Sponsored by Rep. Will Kraus, R-Raytown, the bill – HB1381 – would allow the state to suspend business licenses for companies found to have “knowingly” employed, recruited, or hired illegal immigrants.

Violation of the rule could result in the suspension of a company’s state and local business license and registration.

Supporters said if the bill makes it into law, it would make the state less attractive for illegal immigrants. Opponents said it is the federal government’s responsibility to enforce immigration laws.

A suspension would be lifted once the company proves it no longer is in violation of the rule. Subsequent offenses would result in suspension of state and local business licenses for 10 days.

Another bill of note – HB1422 – would authorize the state to implement and administer the Unified Carrier Registration Act. It is a federal act designed to replace the Single State Registration System.

UCR is a plan with a fee structure that goes from the old per-truck basis to a per-carrier basis and will be the same for all member states. Truckers will no longer have to pick and choose states, as they did with the SSRS. One UCR fee covers all states.

All legislation can be considered during the regular session that begins Wednesday, Jan. 9.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor