MONTGOMERY — The Senate on Wednesday unanimously gave final passage to HB 479, a bill to lower the minimum required age to obtain a commercial driver’s license to 18. The bill, having previously been passed 96-1 by the House, now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.
Sponsored by State Rep. Dexter Grimsley (D-Abbeville) and carried in the Senate by State Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva), the bill enjoyed strong, broad support from Alabama’s business community. HB 479 covers intrastate travel only and is expected to create thousands of new jobs and will allow Yellowhammer State businesses that rely on trucks to move their goods or equipment to better compete with surrounding states.
The Business Council of Alabama, along with the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Beverage Association, the Alabama Retail Association, the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives (AREA), the Alabama Trucking Association, Alabama’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and Manufacture Alabama all praised the passage of the legislation.
“It is a workforce development bill, plain and simple,” BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt said in a statement.
“This commonsense legislation will open the door of opportunity for young adults who are looking to find a good paying job, and at the same time, it addresses a dire need for Alabama businesses that rely on trucks to move their products,” she concluded. “I applaud Rep. Grimsley and Sen. Chesteen for their leadership in this effort.”
The current age restriction bars anyone under the age of 21 from operating the standard tractor-trailer combination in Alabama. Many potential employees are lost to other industries by the time they reach the age of 21. Currently, the Yellowhammer State is one of only two states that restricts a Class A commercial driver’s license to those who are 21 years or older.
“Our country is facing a severe shortage of truckers,” Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell advised. “This impacts the ability of farmers and forest landowners to get equipment and supplies in a timely manner as well as market their products. This legislation is a step in the right direction and will benefit all families, businesses and industries.”
All new drivers must meet training and testing guidelines set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and drivers ages 18-21 may not operate a commercial motor vehicle transporting hazardous material or over-sized loads under the bill.
“The shortage of truck drivers has become increasingly challenging for manufacturers,” Manufacture Alabama President George Clark explained. “It costs manufacturers a lot of money every time a shipment of raw materials is not delivered and every time a product does not leave the plant on time. This is a commonsense measure that is good for industry in Alabama.”
HB 479’s final passage came during national Infrastructure Week. If it is signed by the governor or otherwise becomes law, the bill would take effect on February 7, 2020.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn