Alabama State House teaser

The Alabama State House in Montgomery.

Police in towns with fewer than 19,000 residents could ticket speeders on the interstate if they are within their department’s jurisdiction under a bill Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, has put forward in the Alabama Legislature.

The law has prohibited such action since 1996, after then-Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, was stopped twice on interstate highways traveling between his home district and Montgomery. According to reports by the Associated Press at the time, Barron was pulled over by Argo police in August 1995 for driving 92 mph and made some angry remarks toward the officers who stopped him. He was then stopped during the legislative session by police in Clanton.

Just weeks after Barron’s Clanton stop, the Legislature voted to raise the speed limit on Alabama’s freeways to 70 mph, along with a Barron-backed amendment that prohibited police in towns with fewer than 19,000 residents from writing tickets on interstates.

Currently police are only allowed to ticket speeders if they are within the incorporated territory of the city, even if the police jurisdiction extends further.

Former Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, voted for the law change in 1996, but changed his mind on the issue over time.

“I voted for it and regretted it ever since,” said Dial.

Dial said he felt that law enforcement officers were being treated like “second-class citizens” after the bill became law. Constituents told him local police couldn’t issue speeding tickets in their jurisdiction, he said.

Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Birmingham, says he opposes letting small town police enforce speed limits because he fears they would abuse the authority to bring in money for their jurisdiction.

“It gives small towns the right to set up speed traps,” said Drake.

This was one of the initial complaints Barron made about law enforcement in the ’90s when he suggested changing the law. But Wood doesn’t think this criticism holds up to scrutiny.

“I don’t think it gives the opportunity to set up speed traps, if they’re gonna do that they can stop you anyways,” said Wood.

According to Wood, police can already stop motorists if they have something like a broken taillight, so if they want to pull people over there is already an excuse for them to do so. His primary concern is to provide help for state troopers.

Wood said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is short on manpower and his bill would let some responsibilities fall on local police.

“We just want to do what we can to help out ALEA,” Wood said.

Robyn Bryan, media relations manager for ALEA, said the agency does not comment on pending legislation. However, she did say the department has roughly 370 troopers and plans to continue hiring.

Wood, too, said he thought the current law makes “second-class citizens out of our policemen,” because they cannot enforce the law in their jurisdiction due to a legal technicality.

There have been numerous attempts to change the law in the past, including bills Dial put forward when he was still in the state legislature. Beside the issue of enforcing speed limits, Dial also mentioned that Interstate 20 has been a major route for both drug and sex trafficking in the state. Advocates of the new bill say allowing more local police to monitor motorists would reduce the danger posed by these issues.

Wood said he is not sure why so many past attempts to amend the law failed, but he is committed to working to gain support for the legislation.

Speed was a factor in 794 of the 3,398 fatal crashes in the state from 2013 to 2017, according to data from the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety.

Wood’s bill, introduced in April, passed a committee vote earlier this month but has yet to come before the full House.