State lawmakers hit the brakes on 55 m.p.h. limit

The 55 m.p.h. speed limit -- the law we can live with -- suddenly seems less livable. At least it appears to be facing a forceful new assault in state capitols around the nation.

Encouraged by President Reagan's expressions of support, legislators in about 18 capitals have repeal bills pending, reports Glen Newkirk of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Anti-55 m.p.h. bills are not new, but the current legislative groundswell is unprecedented. Previously, repeal sentiment had centered in the Western states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and New Mexico, where vast stretches of lonely highway made the restriction seem particularly onerous.

Recently, however, grass-roots opposition appears to have blossomed dramatically across the country. Repeal bills have been introduced in states as far-flung as Connecticut, Illinois, and Georgia. In Oklahoma and Montana, anti- 55 m.p.h. speed limit laws already have cleared their first legislative hurdles.

"Sentiment is much more favourable this time around," says Montana state Rep. Robert Sivertsen (R), who wrote the repeal bill in Helena and has worked with other, similarly minded legislators in other states. "This year there's much more concern with states' rights," he adds.

The fact that the 55 m.p.h. limit was imposed on the states is the centerpiece of the argument against it. In addition, Mr. Sivertsen maintains that it hasn't saved many lives or much energy.

But legislators in New Jersey, the one state where pro-55 m.p.h. speed limit sentiment appears strong, don't agree. There, a bill had been introduced that not only upholds the limit but also would increase fines by $5 for every 1 m.p.h. above the limit. The authors believe the law would save a substantial amount of energy.

Initial budget figures from the Reagan administration seem to cut out money for enforcing the speed limit at the federal level, but spokesmen at the US Department of Transportation have been unwilling to comment on any such change in policy.

And it appears Congress may be reconsidering the 55 m.p.h. limit as well. Several repeal bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate.

If these efforts are successful, federal workers may be scraping off those 55 m.p.h. stickers that the Carter administration lavished on many federal bumpers.

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