Monday, May 30, 2016
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A line of trucks travel south on U.S. Highway 81 in Union City. Canadian County is just one of three counties with a size and weights program. (Staff photo by Jon Watje)

By Jon Watje
Managing Editor

Canadian County is only one of three counties in the state that has a program to check if trucks are overweight or oversized, and Sheriff Randall Edwards is hoping to keep it as he is fighting a Senate bill that considered taking that authority away.

District 4 Oklahoma State Senator Mark Allen (R-Spiro) introduced Senate Bill 1458 in January, saying the purpose was to address his concerns that although these programs in Canadian County, along with Roger Mills and Payne counties, cited overweight vehicles, they still were not addressing the problem.

"The purpose of this bill is to protect our infrastructure and property," Allen said. "We have a lot of farm theft in this state and we need our Deputies out protecting properties, instead of stopping vehicles for being overweight or too big. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) is the leading authority in that department in the state."

Allen’s original draft of SB 1458 took authority away from the Corporation Commission and any Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff to stop a vehicle on any road or highway for weight and size violations, leaving that authority just with DPS.

"One of my main concern is what these programs are actually doing and what they did with the trucks that were overweight," Allen said.

"Some of them might cite these vehicle and just let them go on their way. If they are doing that, they are just collecting money and still not protecting our infrastructure."

News of the bill reached the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association and once Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards heard about it, he immediately became concerned.

Edwards said Canadian County issued its own size and weights program a couple of years ago as County Commissioners approved to allocate around $30,000 to purchasing portable scales and equipment for the program.

"I was told by a member of the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association that a statement was made on the House floor that the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office was abusing its size and weights enforcement authority by issuing multiple citations and using size and weight enforcement as a means to generate revenue," Edwards said. "We only make five dollars per citation for size and weights violations, the same as any other citation a Deputy issues."

In February, Edwards took his concerns to the State Capitol to address the Transportation Committee.

"I asked them to vote against this bill," Edwards said. "The state has no business in intervening with county law enforcement. I don’t believe taking authority to enforce state law from the Sheriff would be in the best interest of the people of this state, nor would it be in accordance with the spirit and intent of our constitution and the people who elected their Sheriff to enforce all laws."

Edwards said the size and weights programs had more benefits than the actual revenue it generated. He said the program has saved Canadian County tax payers an estimated $750,000 in road repairs and bridge replacements.

"We have a tremendous return from size and weights enforcement, but it is not in the number of citations we issue to trucking companies for violations they commit while destroying our roads and bridges," he said.

"The county benefits from size and weights enforcement when they don’t have to replace costly roads and bridges. A large portion of that money was paid out for by the trucking and oil companies that were responsible for the damage."

Sen. Allen made an amendment to the bill to keep enforcement authority with the counties, but with the stipulation that they could not cite violators more than state law allowed and that they only wrote one citation per violation.

Ray McNair, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, said the bill was not only a concern of Sheriffs with size and weights programs, but for Sheriffs all over the state.

"Every Sheriff has an interest in this because what this bill is doing is attempting to restrict where we can enforce the laws in our counties," McNair said.

"We can’t have the state dictate what laws we can enforce and where we can enforce them. Sheriffs should be able to enforce the laws in the entire county."

McNair said he did not understand the reasoning behind the bill since only three counties in the state have their own size and weights programs.

"There are only three and right now there are other counties looking at starting their own programs, but they are waiting to see what happens with this piece of legislation," he said.

"There are 40 Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers in the state that enforce size and weights and only three Sheriffs enforcing it, so why take the Sheriffs out of the picture?"

Legislators will now vote on the bill on the House floor this week and if it passes it will then go on to the Governor.

Sheriff Edwards said he and other Sheriffs in the state will continue to monitor the bill and will encourage legislators to keep their concerns in mind.

"I hope legislators have not already made their minds up that Sheriffs are guilty of abusing our authority, based on a few special interest groups that are lobbying and complaining, all because they were held accountable for running trucks illegally," Edwards said.

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