Massachusetts bills stiffen rules on hidden compartments, idling

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, June 30, 2014

Massachusetts state lawmakers could soon consider bills that cover the use of hidden compartments in vehicles and idling limits.

The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security voted to advance a bill that would make it a crime to possess a vehicle, including a large truck, with concealed compartments used for smuggling. H3240 has since moved to the House Steering, Policy and Scheduling Committee.

Supporters say the change is needed to get tough with people who are believed to be involved in drug trafficking along Massachusetts roadways.

The bill is modeled after laws in Georgia and Ohio. However, unlike the Buckeye State H3240 doesn’t include a provision that is intended to protect law-abiding truckers and others by applying an exemption to a box, safe, container or other item added to the vehicle to secure valuables or firearms.

The protection in Ohio applies as long as drugs, or drug residue, are not present in a hidden or secret compartment.

Critics have raised concerns that the Massachusetts bill would shift the burden of proof entirely upon someone who modifies their vehicle.

The bill from Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, would create a provision authorizing convictions when there is intent to use the false, or secret, compartments for illegal activity. Violators would face up to five years behind bars and loss of vehicle.

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

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 they carry as part of operating their business.

Another bill approved by the Joint Committee on Transportation would revise the state’s rules on vehicle idling.

Massachusetts law now limits idling for all vehicles to five minutes. Violators face fines up to $100. Repeat offenders face fines as much as $500.

Exceptions to the rule are authorized for heating or cooling a vehicle to help ensure the driver’s safety. Exceptions are also made for vehicles including refrigerator units on trucks with perishable goods; and vehicles operating special equipment, such as a lift.

S1636 would reduce the allowable time to idle to two minutes. Fine amounts would not change.

The bill is in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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