LINCOLN — What's 45 days worth to the federal government?
Apparently about $6.2 million, the state found out recently.
That's the amount of money Nebraska was in danger of losing in federal highway-construction funds if it didn't come into compliance with a new mandate concerning the use of interlock ignition devices by repeat drunken drivers.
The compliance issue involved a difference of 45 days.
But close doesn't count when it comes to federal funds.
Nebraska, according to state roads officials, found out it was out of compliance in October, just days after Congress passed a new federal highway bill. That new law requires interlock ignition devices for repeat drunken drivers to be installed for at least a full year.
Current Nebraska law fell 45 days short of that requirement, because it requires the devices be installed for the remainder of a year following a 45-day suspension of driving privileges.
For the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Nebraska was penalized by requiring that 2.5 percent of its federal highway funds, or $6.2 million, be used for safety enhancements, and not general highway construction.
Randy Peters, Nebraska Department of Roads director, told lawmakers earlier this year that his department was able to shift the affected federal funds this year to safety enhancements, such as guardrails, on specific highways. But next year, Peters said, the agency might not be able to do that and would lose the money outright.
The Legislature, after a short debate Wednesday, voted 34-0 to advance a measure, Legislative Bill 158, to bring the state into compliance.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha told his fellow lawmakers that the issue proves once again that states must comply with what comes out of Washington, D.C.
“What the federal government says, goes,” Chambers said.
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