Mike Kueber's Blog

March 9, 2011

Federalism and graduated licensing for teens

My former employer USAA made the news this morning.  According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, USAA was endorsing a proposed federal law called the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP) “urging” states to adopt the federal version of graduated licensing for teens.   According to an article in The Street, the proposed law would “urge” states by withholding federal highway dollars unless they enacted the federal version of graduated licensing.  In addition to showing the heavy hand of the federal government, this bill provides an excellent example of the adage, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

When I worked at USAA, I was on the USAA PAC Board of Directors for four years, and part of our responsibility was to approve contributions to candidates who were supportive of business in general and financial services in particular.  Not surprisingly, most of those candidates were Republican, and it seemed like we had to employ a variation of affirmative action to find a modicum number of pro-business Democrats to support.

In the past few years, Republicans have made a big issue out of federalism and the tenth amendment, which provides that all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states.  As Rick Perry said recently in his book Fed Up, the federal government should quit telling the states how to govern and should instead focus on their core responsibility of national security.

The proposed graduated-license law is typical of the way that the feds have encroached on state authority for years – i.e., they tell states that federal highway dollars will be withheld unless they enact a specific law.  In the past, the feds have used this tactic to require national uniformity with respect to DUI at 0.10% BAC, a prohibition of open containers, and a speed limit of 55mph (since repealed). 

USAA’s position on STANDUP is not surprising because it is probably focused on the merits of the graduated-licensing law.  It is also not surprising that, according to the article in The Street, STANDUP is being pushed almost exclusively be Democrats.  Republicans may agree or disagree with the merits of the law, but as a matter of principle, they have become apoplectic over federal overreaching.  They think that overreaching is a greater danger than having an array of state laws that may not be equally enlightened. 

So with this legislation, USAA will probably be working with the representatives that they opposed in the election.  Strange bedfellows, indeed.