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Bill would preserve federal transportation money for the state

Soliday

Soliday

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Updated: March 2, 2013 7:42AM



INDIANAPOLIS — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration threatens to restrict $40.4 million in federal highway funds for the state not being in compliance with federal mandates on drunken driving, even though the state met federal compliance in 2005 when it passed the laws.

According to the NHTSA, Indiana is not strict enough on regulating where open containers can be in motor vehicles and falls short of requiring public service hours for drunken driving sentences.

A bill passed Wednesday in the House Roads and Transportation Committee, authored by Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, would change the state law to specify that the open container law may have exemptions if the passenger is in a transport vehicle, such as a limousine or an RV where the passenger space is separate from the driver’s. The bill would also increase the number of per-day community service hours from six hours to eight hours.

The funding represents about 5 percent of the $807 million in transportation money Indiana receives from Washington. While that money wouldn’t be taken away, it would be placed in a federal safety program that comes with more restrictions. Projects would require federal approval before the Indiana Department of Transportaton could use the funds. Will Wingfield of INDOT said that could affect next year’s transportation budget.

What puzzles INDOT and Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, is seven years ago the state passed the standards asked, but now NHTSA has changed the standards.

“The feds came to us,” Soliday said. “So the people who were here before me gave them exactly what they wanted. Then around October, they came to us and said, ‘You know that thing we said we liked? We don’t like it anymore.’ ”

Soliday expects the bill will pass with ease.

While the state has the option to appeal the decision, introducing and passing the bill will help free the money to use in the future.

“[We don’t] feel that the way this played out was particularly fair,” Wingfield said. “Since we were previously in compliance, and the laws that guide whether we’re in compliance haven’t changed, we should be given the time to address this before there are repercussions.”



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