The Minnesota Senate joined the push to restrict newly licensed teenage drivers, voting Monday to prohibit early morning driving by them and to limit the number of young people accompanying them.
The Senate's transportation policy bill also took aim at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), requiring the commissioner or a deputy to be a professional engineer and addressing complaints that arose from the bidding process for the new Interstate 35W bridge.
Coming on the heels of a similar push in the House, the Senate bill would bar teens under 18 from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. during the first six months after obtaining a license unless they were going to or from work or school. In addition, a driver under 18 couldn't have more than one passenger younger than 20 for the first six months after getting a license unless the passenger was a family member.
For the second six months, such a driver could not have more than three passengers younger than 20 unless they were family members.
Monday's action came three days after Gov. Tim Pawlenty, on his weekly radio show, said he also supported legislation that restricts teenage drivers.
"Between midnight and 5 a.m., that's when young drivers die on the road," Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, the bill's chief author, said during debate. Murphy said statistics showing that Minnesota had the highest percentage of fatal crashes in which teens were the drivers "was something we should not be proud of."
But Sen. Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton, said the measure overreached and put legislators in charge of dictating personal responsibility. On another level, she said, the legislation meant "we're sort of doing away with double dates for the prom."
The Senate bill also ordered MnDOT to have a professional engineer in one of its top management positions. Although DFLers said the provision wasn't aimed at particular individuals, the language came after former MnDOT Commissioner Carol Molnau faced criticism for not having the technical expertise to address issues related to the I-35W bridge collapse in August. Tom Sorel, who became MnDOT's new commissioner on Monday, is a civil engineer.
"It's not about a particular administration or a particular employee," said Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, who pushed for the language.
DFLers also addressed complaints arising from last fall's decision to award the contract for the new 35W bridge to Colorado-based Flatiron Constructors, although the firm had the highest bid at $234 million and acknowledged it would take the longest to complete the project. Under the bill, a design-build project costing more than $10 million -- like the 35W bridge -- couldn't be awarded to a company whose bid is 120 percent more than the lowest competing bid.
MnDOT spokeswoman Lucy Kender said late Monday that the agency opposes the portion of the bill that would limit its selection to a design-build proposal whose proposed cost does not exceed 120 percent of the lowest submitted bid.
"As the bill will likely go to a conference committee, we will review the final bill at that time and determine which portions remain that we can support or conversely oppose," she said in an e-mail.
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388