Session Review: Transportation and Telecommunications

Among other measures, lawmakers passed bills this session to require longer ignition interlock installation for DUI offenders and to identify veterans on driver’s licenses.

Transportation

A bill that requires those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicle for a minimum of one year passed on a 45-0 vote.

Hastings Sen. Les Seiler introduced LB158 to bring Nebraska into compliance with new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines in order to maintain $6.2 million in federal highway funding.

Under the bill, an offender’s license will not be reinstated until after the court-ordered ignition interlock device installation period. Offenders who have prior convictions or are serving probation will have their license revoked for 18 months from the court-ordered date and must have an ignition interlock device installed for at least one year.

The bill also eliminates restrictions on offenders to operate an ignition-interlock vehicle only for purposes of employment, education, substance abuse treatment, parole or probation supervision, health care for themselves or their dependents, court-ordered community service obligations and ignition interlock servicing.

Under a bill introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, eligible veterans can request that their veteran status be indicated on their driver’s licenses or state ID cards.

Passed on a 47-0 vote, LB93 requires the state Department of Veterans Affairs to create and maintain a registry to aid the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in issuing such cards, which may include identifying information, active duty, retired, or discharge status. Those who submit fraudulent applications may have their driver’s licenses or state IDs canceled by the DMV.

Two bills relating to driving safety measures remain on general file.

LB399, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would allow the display of rotating or flashing amber lights on vehicles operated by public safety volunteers and crime prevention organizations. Under the bill, the use of such lights must be approved by a sheriff, police department or other law enforcement agency and used only within a designated area.

LB393, introduced by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield, would repeal the state’s current law requiring motorcyclists to wear protective helmets. Under the bill, motorcycle operators and passengers younger than 21 would continue to be required to wear a protective helmet, but those 21 and older no longer would be required to do so. All motorcyclists would be required to wear eye protection.

The committee held several other bills dealing with driving safety.

Under LB10, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, all occupants of a vehicle would be required to wear a seat belt. Violations would be an infraction with a $25 fine.

Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms introduced LB189, which would assess vehicle passengers who are not wearing seat belts one point on their operator’s license and a $100 fine per violation.

Harms also introduced a bill that would make enforcement of texting while driving a primary action, allowing law enforcement to stop drivers solely for engaging in such activity. Enforcement of the law currently is a secondary action, meaning the driver must first be cited or charged with some other violation.

Under LB118, a texting driver would be issued an infraction and a fine of between $200 and $500, depending on the number of previous offenses.

LB258, introduced by Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan, would prohibit school bus operators from using interactive wireless communication devices while driving, not including dispatch devices.

Under LB351, introduced by Harms, drivers who are 80 years old and older whose tests indicate cognitive impairment would be required to take and pass the standard written test.

LB84, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, would allow utility type vehicles (UTV) to cross controlled access highways with more than two marked traffic lanes if:
• the UTV’s headlight and taillight are on at the time of crossing;
• the intersection is controlled by and in compliance with a traffic light; and
• the local governing body has authorized UTV crossings at that intersection.

UTVs currently are prohibited from crossing controlled access highways with more than two marked traffic lanes.

Finally, a bill introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Price that increases the contract value for bridge and road projects in which counties must undergo a formal bidding process was approved on a 42-0 vote.

LB623, raises the bidding threshold from $60,000 to $100,000 for county contracts for bridge and road repair projects and from $10,000 to $20,000 for material costs.

Telecommunications

Appeal procedures for the Public Service Commission (PSC) were changed with the passage of LB545 on a 43-2 vote.

Under the bill, introduced by Dubas, PSC appeals will go directly to the court of appeals instead of the district court as currently required under the Administrative Procedures Act. The appellate court will conduct a review of a PSC order de novo on the record.

Among other provisions, the bill also:
• allows commission orders other than natural gas rate orders be reconsidered within 10 business days after the effective date of the order. Natural gas rate orders may be reconsidered within 30 days;
• suspends the time for filing a notice of intention to appeal pending resolution of a motion to reconsider; and
• automatically stays enforcement of natural gas rate orders pending resolution of an appeal.

A bill that allows the PSC to conduct a study examining the statewide implementation of Next Generation 911 was passed on a 41-0 vote.

LB595, introduced by Price, authorizes the PSC to use Enhanced Wireless 911 funds to conduct a study of the implications, costs and consideration of statewide implementation of next generation emergency communications. The PSC will be required to report its findings to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

The committee indefinitely postponed LB617, introduced by Schumacher, which would have amended the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund Act.

The bill also would have reduced the current 6.95 percent assessment to 3.5 percent by Jan. 1, 2021, and reallocated the funds to:
• promote private competition by allowing competitors to use the fund and requiring competitive access to facilities;
• identify fiber optic and wireless infrastructures;
• encourage the aggregation of community broadband demand over local area networks;
• provide affordable acquisition of access to tier one network providers;
• reinforce federal bans on the practice of implicit subsidization of local phone companies; and
• emphasize broadband communications using Internet protocols.

Two bills were introduced this session regarding the One Call Notification Systems Act. Commonly referred to as the “Digger’s Hotline,” the system is used by excavators to identify and locate underground facilities prior to excavation to protect the facilities from damage. A notice to the service center currently is required prior to performing an excavation or bar test survey.

Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier introduced LB589, which allows gas or hazardous liquid underground pipeline facility operators to test in the event of reported leaks without notifying the hotline, but requires the operator to give such notice prior to an excavation in response to a leak. A facility location response will not be required to begin or continue excavation. The bill also provides immunity from civil penalties, but maintains strict liability for damage caused by either the bar testing or the repair excavation.

The bill passed on a 41-0 vote.

The committee held LB358, introduced by Dubas, which would limit those notification requirement exemptions for agricultural purposes to landowners, tenants or third parties who do not charge fees.

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