Pennsylvania lawmaker renews hidden vehicle compartment fight

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/8/2013

A Pennsylvania state lawmaker is again trying to get tough with anyone, including truck drivers, who are believed to be involved in drug trafficking.

Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, has introduced a bill that would make it a crime to possess a vehicle with concealed compartments used for smuggling.

“Under current law it is not a crime to possess, own or design a vehicle with concealed compartments,” Harper wrote in a memo to lawmakers. “These compartments are used to avoid compliance with multiple state laws including drug smuggling.”

Harper’s bill – HB32 – would create a provision in state law authorizing convictions when there is intent to use the false, or secret, compartments for illegal activity. Violators would face jail time and loss of vehicle.

The bill also covers incidents involving a large truck. Specifically, it clarifies that carriers, or truck owners, would not lose their vehicle if they are unaware of the driver's illegal activity.

Harper offered a similar bill a year ago. House lawmakers endorsed it, but the bill died in a Senate committee.

Hopeful that a new year will spur new momentum, Harper said the rule is needed to help police that often stop the same vehicles multiple times for alleged smuggling.

“False compartments in cars and trucks are often used along I-95 to transport illegal drugs, guns and even people from Florida to New York,” Harper previously stated. “And they are used repeatedly, so the bill gives the district attorney the ability to have a vehicle used this way forfeited.”

Opponents say the change is unnecessary and could lead to unreasonable police searches of innocent travelers.

At least six states have implemented similar rules, including Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and Utah.

Harper’s bill would only affect compartments added after a vehicle leaves the factory.

OOIDA officials say such hiding spots are not uncommon for over-the-road drivers. Truckers who travel for days at a time have few options to hide cash and other valuables they carry as part of operating their business.

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

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