The Mississippi House of Representatives recently passed a bill that lawmakers claim will help smaller churches with their transportation costs – but these misguided politicians may be putting lives at risk.
Earlier this month, the Mississippi House passed HB 132, which one official dubbed the “Jesus Take the Wheel Act” – after the popular song by country singer Carrie Underwood. The legislation is pretty straightforward: It would allow church-owned vehicles that carry no more than 30 passengers to be driven by someone who does not have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This would include vans used to transport young children.
Proponents say this bill is necessary to help smaller churches with limited financial resources, even though the proposal does not place any restrictions on its applicability based on the size of a congregation.
“This just allows small churches; some don’t have people with commercial licenses at all, and they can pick a person to drive the bus,” said House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Robert Johnson III, (D-Natchez), according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Even if this bill passes, it wouldn’t offer a major change because current law allows drivers to transport up to 16 passengers without CDL certification. But that doesn’t mean this proposal isn’t a needless safety hazard.
“I think this bill is trading the safety of everyone on the road for the convenience of those operating church vehicles,” Hattiesburg resident Troy Coll, a CDL-certified driver, told the Clarion-Ledger. “Since the bill covers vehicles up to 30 passengers, we’re not just talking vans with extra rows of seats – these are buses, with long frames and much larger blind spots than passenger vehicles.”
It’s hard to figure out why lawmakers feel this bill is worth their time. Since anyone can drive up to 16 passengers now, and a CDL-certification is neither difficult to get (applicants are required to take written and road tests, plus they have to pass a physical) nor expensive (it costs around $40 to apply and obtain a permit; the license itself is $41), there is no unreasonable burden for any house of worship.
“Obtaining a CDL is not especially difficult,” Coll said, “but the testing does increase the level of scrutiny on drivers, and the medical requirements prevent individuals with poor vision/hearing/motor control or untreated diabetes from driving large vehicles full of vulnerable passengers.”
So what’s really going on here? Once again, a group of lawmakers is creating special rules for churches that are less strict than the laws that apply to everyone else. This is clearly a case of government favoring religion.
Of course this sort of thing happens all the time, but it’s rare that political efforts to aide churches actually pose a safety hazard. Since this proposal is potentially dangerous, however, let’s hope the Mississippi Senate shows more concern for the safety of individuals than the wallets of churches.