Last Thursday, the House Transportation Committee voted 12 to 1 to pass a bill that would automatically revoke the driver’s license of anyone who hits a utility, highway or emergency worker on a Missouri roadway.
The bill is sponsored by State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington, and is inspired by former Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) worker, Lyndon Ebker, who was killed by an elderly driver in a Highway 100 work zone outside New Haven in 2016.
The driver who hit and killed Ebker was allowed to keep his driver’s license for 2 1/2 years from the time of the accident in April 2016 until last fall.
In November, the 82-year-old driver pleaded guilty to aggravated endangerment of a highway worker and was fined $10,000 and had his license revoked for life.
After four Franklin County judges recused themselves, a fifth judge in the case, Judge Diana Bartels from the 23rd Circuit (Jefferson County), finally took the case and revoked the license.
This long delay and the constant change of judges drew criticisms not only from the Ebker family, but MoDOT officials, including Director Patrick McKenna.
Late last year, MoDOT officials speaking at the meeting of the Missouri Highways Commission held in Washington, said they were making this issue one of their top legislative priorities for 2019.
The bill has now been referred to the House Rules and Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee, and a public hearing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 13.
“I’ve spoken to the chairman of the committee (Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston),” Griesheimer said. “I have full faith we can get it out of that committee and onto the floor.”
If the bill does make it out of the committee it will then head to the full House and additional amendments may be tacked on before final passage and being sent to the Senate.
“I hope to keep it as clean as possible,” Griesheimer said.
To increase the odds of similar legislation passing this year, a sister bill has been filed in the Senate by State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.
That bill is taking a similar track and was referred to the Senate Transportation Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee last week, but a hearing date has not yet been set.
Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herbel, told The Missourian either she or her sister plan to testify before that committee as well.
At a hearing on the House bill Jan. 31, Herbel gave a graphic description of the accident scene from the day her father was killed.
In addition to Herbel’s testimony, about 15 other people representing utility workers, MoDOT and first responders testified in favor of the bill. There was no dissenting testimony.
Although there was no testimony opposing the bill, representatives on the committee questioned if the automatic revocation was in a way convicting drivers before their right to due process.
Another representative stated that instead of wasting time on this bill, since it won’t bring a life back, more efforts should be put into preventing the accidents in the first place.
If the legislation is successful, a driver’s license will be automatically revoked and the driver can then gain their license back either through a petition to the circuit court or by retaking both the written and hands-on state driving tests.
Another question raised was about the amount of time that must pass between license revocation and when a driver can reapply.