MT bills target truck weights, English-only testing, daylight-saving time

| 1/14/2009

Several noteworthy legislative efforts that have been offered in Montana address truck weight limits, English-only CDL testing, use of headlights and opting out of daylight-saving time.

Rep. Julie French, D-Scobey, is the sponsor of a bill that would increase truck weight limits for certain haulers in winter months. The measure – HB233 – would authorize a wintertime 10 percent overweight permit for hauling grain, hay, livestock or “products needed to support the operation” of farms or ranches.

The special order would be applied from Dec. 1 to March 7 each year. Permits would cost $50 for each towing vehicle and would be valid for 30 days or until March 7, whichever is earlier.

A bill still in draft status would require testing for driver’s licenses to be offered only in English. Rep. Edward Butcher, R-Winifred, hasn’t finalized the legislation, but he offered a similar measure during the 2007 session.

That effort, which died in committee, applied the English requirement to all forms of driver’s licenses, including commercial driver’s licenses.

Currently, six states limit licensing tests to English only. Efforts to adopt the standard have popped up in other states in the past year.

Opponents say there are no studies that suggest English proficiency makes better drivers.

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

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is encouraged by the increased pursuit in states to make sure potential truckers, as well as other drivers, can communicate in English.

Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, said that making the English requirement standard for the written and driving portions of the test is vital, and all states should be doing it.

“It’s the only way you’re really going to know for sure” that applicants can communicate in English, he said.

A separate measure from Butcher that has yet to be given a bill number would require all vehicles equipped with headlamps to have them illuminated while driving on highways. The requirement would apply to all times throughout the day.

Another provision included in the draft legislation would alter the state’s headlight use requirement. Montana law already mandates that truckers and other drivers flip on their lights from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, or when visibility because of precipitation is reduced to 500 feet or less.

Butcher wants to require headlights to be flipped on one-half hour before sunset and to not be turned off until one-half hour after sunrise.

Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, has introduced a bill – SB177 – that would authorize Montana to opt out of daylight-saving time. Standard time would become the official time for the state and would be recognized throughout the year.

A provision attached to the bill specifies that if the U.S. government enacts a law or regulation relating to the adoption of daylight-saving time by all states, Montana would comply with the rule.

HB233 is awaiting assignment to committee. SB177 is in the Senate State Administration Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Montana in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor