Session Review: Transportation and Telecommunications

Senators considered legislation regarding motorcycle helmets, specialty license plates and texting while driving, among other topics this session.

Rules of the road

LB399, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would have allowed volunteer members of public safety or crime prevention organizations to use rotating or flashing amber lights on any motor vehicle.

Currently, flashing amber lights may be displayed on vehicles used for specific purposes such as military, public utility maintenance, towing, vehicle maintenance, Civil Air Patrol, oversized load, railroad, emergency management and storm spotting.

Lautenbaugh offered a motion on select file to invoke cloture and force a vote on the bill. The motion failed 32-12, falling one vote short of the number required.

LB807, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms, would have created the Nebraska Roadway Safety Act and changed five motor vehicle violations from secondary to primary offenses:
• texting while driving;
• failure by occupants in a vehicle to use seat belts;
• using any type of wireless communication device while driving a school bus;
• using any type of wireless communication device while driving for those with a learner’s, school or provisional driving permit; and
• operating a motor vehicle with a provisional driving permit between 6 a.m. and midnight with more than one passenger who is not a family member and is under 19 years old.

Currently in Nebraska, secondary offenses can be enforced only when a driver has been cited or charged with a traffic violation or some other offense.

The bill was held in committee.

Introduced by Papillion Sen. Jim Smith, LB757 relaxes the requirement that a mailbox be placed 1 foot outside the shoulder line of a highway. The bill also removes the requirement that the state Department of Roads regulate Nebraska’s diminishing wayside, or picnic, areas.

Finally, the bill repeals an outdated county roads numbering system in favor of the more modern E-911 road numbering system.

Senators passed the bill on a 46-0 vote.

Agricultural transportation

LB1039, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, allows farm equipment dealers to designate commercial haulers as their agents when moving their equipment. Haulers are required to carry documentation signed by the dealers identifying them as dealer representatives.

The bill also permits commercial haulers to follow the same width, height and length restrictions specified for farm equipment dealers.

Senators passed the bill on a 48-0 vote.

Provisions of LB982, also introduced by Dubas, were amended into LB814, which passed 43-1. The measure allows manufacturers to market new varieties of all-terrain and utility-type vehicles by amending vehicle dimension restrictions and tire definitions.

LB174, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, increases from $100 to $250 the minimum fine for any driver who spills livestock manure or urine from a vehicle on a highway located within the corporate limits of a metropolitan class city. The violation is a Class IV misdemeanor.

The bill also changes penalties for zoning ordinance violations in metropolitan class cities to a Class IV misdemeanor for a first or second violation and a Class II misdemeanor for third and subsequent violations, if committed within two years of a prior violation.

The bill passed on a vote of 40-2.

Licensing and administration

Introduced by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, LB383 creates the Military Honor license plate. To be eligible, current and former service members are required to register with the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The fee for alphanumeric plates is $5, which may be waived on one set of plates and is credited to the Veteran Cemetery System Operation Fund. Personalized plates cost $40, with $30 credited to the cemetery fund and $10 credited to the state Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund.

Individuals receiving Prisoner of War and Purple Heart plates are exempt from the $5 fee. The Military Honor plates will be available in January 2016. Fees for the plates are in addition to standard motor vehicle registration fees.

The bill passed on a 48-0 vote.

Introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, LB446 adds flood-damaged vehicles to the definition of salvage in the Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title Act.

The bill defines a flood-damaged vehicle as one that has been submerged in water to the point that rising water has reached over the floorboard, entered the passenger compartment and caused damage to any electrical, computerized or mechanical components.

Under the bill, any vehicle designated as flood damaged will receive a salvage title.

Lawmakers approved the bill on a 44-0 vote.

The legislature passed two bills that brought Nebraska statutes in compliance with federal guidelines.

LB983, introduced by Dubas, updates Nebraska statutes to comply with federal regulations regarding commercial driver’s licenses, permits and identification cards issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

If convicted of using a hand-held telephone while driving, commercial vehicle drivers, drivers of nine- to 15-passenger vans and school bus drivers will have a three-point penalty assessed against their license. The bill also exempts farmers, their family members and employees from commercial driving regulations when driving covered farm vehicles.

Senators passed the bill on a 42-0 vote.

LB776, introduced by Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley, makes state laws administered by the DMV consistent with federal laws by amending reference dates in several statutes. Included in the updates is a requirement that DMV employees who handle licensing and registration documentation be subject to background checks.

The bill passed on a 47-0 vote.

LB786, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would have created an emergency contact registry within the DMV for exclusive use by law enforcement following crisis situations in which a victim cannot communicate.

The bill would have enabled Nebraska residents with a state driver’s license or identification card voluntarily to provide up to two contact names and phone numbers via the DMV website without charge.

The bill was held in committee.

Motorcycles and bicycles

A bill dealing with motorcycle helmets stalled on general file.

LB393, introduced by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield, would have allowed motorcycle riders 21 years old and older to ride without wearing a protective helmet. The bill would have required motorcycle riders to use eye protection such as goggles, a windshield or a face shield attached to a helmet.

Bloomfield filed a motion on general file to invoke cloture, which would cease debate and force a vote on the bill. The motion failed on a 25-22 vote; 33 votes were needed.

LB667, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, would have allowed motorcyclists to display light-emitting diodes—or LEDs—on a motorcycle. Current law prohibits the use of red or green lights that are visible from the front of any vehicle except police and fire department vehicles or school buses. The bill was held in committee.

Senators considered two bicycle-related measures this session.

LB756, introduced by Smith, would have expanded the state’s definition of a bicycle to include electric-assist bicycles. In addition to having two or three wheels and pedals for propulsion by human power, an electric bicycle features an electric motor producing up to 750 watts, up to one brake horsepower and a maximum speed of 20 mph.

The bill was advanced to general file but not scheduled for debate.

Finally, LB1071, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would have required the state Department of Roads to establish minimum safety design criteria for planning and constructing routes for bicycles.

The bill also would have given cyclists the same rights as pedestrians when riding their bicycles on sidewalks, crosswalks and roadway shoulders.

The bill was held in committee.

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