The U.S. Senate has passed a measure The American Legion considers a “good first step” in paving the way for qualified military veterans to more easily obtain commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs).

On March 14, by a vote of 74-22, senators OK’d the surface transportation authorization bill (S.1813), known as the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” bill. In it is an amendment that requires the Secretary of Transportation to convene a study assessing the barriers faced by qualified servicemembers and veterans wishing to obtain a CDL. As it stands in some states, well-trained and experienced license seekers – such as current and former military truck drivers – must undergo further training and testing that advocates consider unnecessary, expensive and time-consuming. The amendment was introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, with co-author Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

“The direction to begin a federal study of the issue is a commendable first step,” said Joe Sharpe, director of the Legion’s Economic Division. “But we would really like to see the streamlining process streamlined itself.”

In mid-February, American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong wrote a letter to Snowe in support of her bill to do just that. Her proposed legislation, S.2084, directs “Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and in cooperation with the States, shall establish accelerated licensing procedures to assist veterans to acquire commercial driver’s licenses.” The bill remains in Senate committee hands.

“As several states have already demonstrated by waiving certain CDL testing requirements for qualified servicemembers and veterans, the streamlining process is eminently viable,” Sharpe said. “When ‘best practices’ are evident, there is no reason for an overly protracted study and recommendation issuing process at the federal level.”

A number of state departments of motor vehicles, including those in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah, have established procedures for the quick issuance of CDLs to current and recently discharged military vehicle operators. Several other states are considering similar measures.

The surface transportation authorization bill and its amendments now await action in the House of Representatives.