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Senator ties education to drivers' licenses

January 20, 1998
By: Samantha Young
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - One senator is trying to keep more kids in school by tying drivers' licenses to attendance.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, would require teenagers under age 18 to be in school, have graduated or pass the GED, a high school equivalency test, to obtain a driver's license.

"We're told one of the most precious things to a teenager, particularly to a boy, is a driver's license," Russell said Tuesday after a hearing on his bill.

His measure also would require a student who is enrolled in school to have no more than 15 unexcused absences a semester, otherwise his or her license would be suspended. School officials, or parents in home schooling cases, would report such absences.

To comply with the law, Russell told the Senate Transportation Committee school districts would spend approximately $7 million per year. But, they would earn an additional $15 million because more children, an estimated 8,000, would be in school, he said.

Diane McLelland, of Families for Home Education, said she opposes the measure because it would result in the loss of personal freedom and employment.

Russell said his bill, however, would allow the courts to provide exemptions to students who have personal or family hardships and to those who do not have the ability to qualify for a high school diploma.

McLelland said she is worried the bill would infringe on parents' rights.

"It does no less than raise the compliance school age to 18," she said.

A member of the committee Sen. President Pro Tem Bill McKenna, R-Barnhart, said he does not want to tie drivers' licenses to education.

"It should be parents' responsibility to keep kids in school," he said. "We shouldn't force somebody to do something they don't want to do."

The committee also heard a bill by Sen. Ronnie DePasco, D-Kansas City, introduced for the second year in a row, that would make it illegal to play music in a car that could be heard 100 feet away.

DePasco said his bill would be like city ordinances in towns that limit exhaust levels. He said the Kansas City Police Department told him his bill could be enforced.

Unlike last year's bill, DePasco said this session's version excludes vehicles on private property, extends the noise distance from 50 to 100 feet and drops the penalty from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

Supporters of all age groups testified in favor of Sen. Betty Sims', R-St. Louis, bill to ban "impaired" drivers from the roads.

Under her bill, health care workers, peace officers and family members would be able to file confidential, voluntary reports describing a person's inability to operate a vehicle safely.

Upon receiving a report, the director of revenue would test the driver and could take away an impaired driver's license or require future tests.