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Transportation policy II gets approval

Published (4/25/2008)
By Mike Cook
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“The Sequel” has received a green light.

With the 2007 transportation policy bill awaiting gubernatorial action, the 2008 version received House approval April 24.

Sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), HF3800 includes changes related to pupil transportation, vehicle registration, towed vehicle contents, graduated driver licensing, traffic regulations, use of wireless devices while driving, railroad walkway safety and regulations for movers of household goods. It contains close to 30 member provisions.

“There is a deep concern to safety issues in this bill,” he said.

Following the 82-44 vote, the bill is Senate bound, where Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) is the sponsor. A conference committee is expected to work out differences between the bills.

One part of the bill takes aim at distracted drivers by restricting a person behind the wheel from using a wireless communications device to compose, read or send electronic messages while the vehicle is moving or part of the flow of traffic. Exceptions are provided if it is in a voice-activated or other hands-free mode; for obtaining emergency assistance; if the person believes their life or safety is in immediate danger; and in an authorized emergency vehicle while performing official duties. Hornstein sponsored this provision in HF3726.

Based off HF2628, sponsored by Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), the bill places types of passenger and driving time restrictions on provisional license holders. Minnesota is one of four states without any such restrictions.

“This helps support parents who give their car keys and hope and pray their kids come home safe at the end of the night,” she said. “This lets them get experience before heading out with a large number of kids.”

The bill would require that during the first six months of a provisional license, the young person would be permitted to have one person under age 20 in the car with them, not counting immediate family. That would increase to three in the ensuing six months. Immediate family is defined as “permanent members of the same household who are related by blood, adoption, or marriage.”

During the first six months of provisional licensure, the bill would also prohibit a person under age 18 from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. except when the driver is going between the person’s home and job or school event where no transportation is provided, the driver is driving due to a job or the driver is accompanied by a licensed driver or state identification card holder who is at least 20.

Rep. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the restrictions, saying government shouldn’t tell parents they don’t know well enough to say when their child can drive. “It should be left up to the parent and the situation at hand, not a blanket provision or one-size-fits-all.”

One of the more controversial measures considered on the House floor would allow those whose vehicle is impounded to retrieve some essential contents under certain circumstances without paying for vehicle retrieval.

The bill states that units of government or impound operators shall establish reasonable procedures for content retrieval. This comes from the original HF3800, sponsored by Hornstein. “It’s a matter of simple compassion, and our belief of a broader good in the community,” he said.

The content is limited to medicine and medical-related items and equipment; eyeglasses; clothing; educational materials; legal documents, including driver’s license, identification and passports; insurance documents; and documents indicating eligibility for public benefit programs. It does not include things like stereo systems, athletic equipment or video games left in the vehicle.

Opponents, including Rep. Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield) and Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar), are concerned that this would allow people to easily dump vehicles they no longer want without paying any sort of fee. “You’re asking the towing company to be this mini-welfare program to tow the car for nothing, keep the car, have to go through a whole bunch of paperwork, strip the car down through a lot of work to get the car to the junkyard,” Hackbarth said. “You’re asking them to bite the bullet.”

Towers are getting a high price for scrap metal from junked cars right now, countered Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park).

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