Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, testifies Tuesday before the House Transportation Committee in support of a measure providing legal right of way to funeral processions. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Inspired by Patriot Guard motorcycle riders at his uncle’s funeral procession, a Kansas legislator wants drivers to yield to funeral motorcades.
Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, said the Patriot Guard — an organization which will stand guard over funerals of military or first responders killed in action — aided the procession by managing traffic and allowing mourners to give proper honor to the fallen veteran. The experience led Pittman to the discovery that Kansas had yet to define or recognize funeral processions.
“If a car were to hit one of these escort volunteers, or any vehicle for that matter, the vehicles in the procession could be at fault just because they were technically breaking the law,” Pittman said.
A bill heard Tuesday before the House Transportation Committee would address this issue by providing the right of way to any funeral procession escorted by a lead vehicle with flashing lights or an escort like the Patriot Guard. Anyone violating these proposed rules would face a $20 fine.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ken Collins, R-Mulberry, would not infringe upon cities and counties that already regulate funeral proceedings.
“Rules concerning funeral processions are currently established on a county-by-county, city-by-city basis, if they exist at all. There is no consistency,” said Pam Scott, executive director for the Kansas Funeral Directors Association. “This creates confusion when a funeral procession passes through numerous cities and counties while on the way to a cemetery.”
Scott said a statewide law would also allow better driver education through the state drivers handbook on conduct when operating an automobile near a funeral procession.
Last year, the same bill was filed by Pittman, then a member of the House, and died due to inaction after passing favorably through the transportation committee.
This year, a Senate version of the bill removed the $20 fine for violators. Pittman said the change was because of concern expressed by chamber leadership, although he voiced personal support for some sort of penalty.
Several members of the House panel expressed concern with the removal of this fine. Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, questioned how this rule would be enforced if there was not some sort of repercussion for disobedience.
Rep. Leo Delperdang, R-Wichita, pushed for first responders to be included alongside military funeral processions when defining what a “funeral escort” means. Delperdang, who has himself participated in these processions as a member of the Patriot Guard, said the law was long overdue.
“I have been to too many of these things where people don’t respect the rules of the road,” Delperdang said. “By golly, they got to get to their soccer game or something, and they pull right in there. It’s just so dangerous.”
The committee also endorsed Tuesday legislation allowing military surplus vehicles to be licensed by the state for use on streets and highways.
The House endorsed the law last year with bipartisan support, but it died in the Senate. If passed by both chambers this year and signed by Gov. Laura Kelly, surplus military-grade vehicles less than 25 years of age would be eligible for a special license plate.
Support for the measure is guided by Global Parts, an Augusta business that customizes Humvees. The Kansas Association of Counties indicated the bill could increase road maintenance costs, but Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, said during an earlier hearing that Global Parts’ business would improve with changes to state statute allowing Humvees to be driven on Kansas roads.
“It’s an economic win for our state, for our communities, and for our families interested in this unique investment — and at the same time, it supports our U.S. Military,” Williams said.
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