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Speed Bill Stalls

February 21, 1996
By: Pablo Hernandez and Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The governor's plan to keep down speed limits in Missouri is scheduled to come before the Missouri Senate this morning in what many are predicting will become a filibuster to kill the whole idea.

The House approved Wednesday morning a speed limit bill that was put together in a conference committee on Tuesday.

If the Senate approves the bill, the governor's signature would be all that stands in the way of new, higher state speed limits.

"I'm relieved that it's out of our hands now," said the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Larry Thomason, D-Kennett.

But Senate passage is far from assured. The bill's chief critic, Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, has not ruled out a filibuster - simply saying he won't disclose his strategy.

But he's blunt about his opposition.

"It's virtually identical to the House bill," Caskey said. "The Senate conferees did not attempt to uphold the Senate position."

Thomason said Caskey could cause problems for the bill's passage.

"Sen. Caskey is going to filibuster in the Senate to try to get the Senate to vote it down," Thomason said earlier in the week.

The Senate was supposed to consider the bill Wednesday afternoon, but Senate leaders decided to postpone any action until today.

The compromise version of the speed limit bill being considered by the Senate would set the following speed limits:

* 70 mph on rural Interstate and freeways which are defined as limited-access, multi-lane highways.

* 65 mph on rural expressways, defined as multi-lane highways with cross roads.

* 60 mph on 2-lane roads designated by numbers.

* 55 mph on 2-lane roads designed by letters.

* 60 mph on urban multi-lane highways.

The legislature must pass the speed-limit bill before April 3 or the limits will revert back to the limits of 1973 -- 70 mph on multi-lane highways and 65 mph during the day on all other state highways.

Those old, higher speed limits do not bother Caskey, who said that he prefers those limits to the ones in the House-passed version of the bill.

But some officials are concerned about the effect such higher limits would have on Missouri's accident fatality rates, now that many more cars are on the road.

"I hope we don't go back to the old speed limits. That would be an absolute disservice to the public," said Col. Fred Mills, of the Missouri Highway Patrol. "If you look at any statistic it will show there is a direct correlation between the number of serious accidents and speed."