Ohio bill targets hidden vehicle compartments

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/1/2012

If an Ohio bill advocated by the governor is approved, truck drivers could soon feel as though they are being lumped together with drug traffickers.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, a bill targets hidden compartments in vehicles, including large trucks and trailers. The legislation is part of an anti-drug trafficking effort outlined by Gov. John Kasich.

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.

During a news conference in Columbus, Kasich said that Ohio is a major artery for drug trafficking. As a result, changes are needed in how the state addresses the issue.

“The ability to move drugs through our state because of our highway system provides a great opportunity for drug dealers to win the day,” Kasich said.

In 2011, the governor said that drug seizures were up 13 percent from the previous three-year average. So far this year, he said that troopers have seized more heroin in the first six weeks than they did all of 2011.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, said he understands the state’s intention to get tough with people involved in illegal drug trade. However, he said the bill presents a lot of potential problems for truck drivers.

“The biggest problem with how the bill is worded is what I would call the ‘law of unintended consequences,’” Rajkovacz said.

“The language is so broad that overzealous law enforcement could pop truckers for a violation simply for having built a hiding spot within the cab for cash they carry as part of operating their business.”

He said it is unreasonable to expect a professional driver to make sure everything they have of value is tucked inside their pockets.

Hughes’ bill – SB305 – is awaiting assignment to committee in the Senate.

Other components of the state’s plan to target drug activity include relying on the public for help.

About 150 new signs to be posted along the state’s major routes will warn travelers that “Drug Traffickers Go to Prison.”

In addition, about 125 existing blue signs posted on highways throughout the state will be replaced. The signs now instruct travelers to dial (877) 7-PATROL if they need help. New signs will promote a simpler number to dial – #677 – to alert law enforcement about possible drug activities.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Ohio, click here.

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