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State Update
What’s happening in your state legislature

By Keith Goble
State Legislative Editor

Truckers spoke up and Wyoming Senate rejected split speeds

Wyoming senators rejected legislation Jan. 28 that called for adopting split speed limits in the state.

The full Senate vote was 15-15, failing to produce the simple majority needed to approve the bill.

The bill – SF126 – sought to set the speed limit for large trucks at 65 mph on the state’s interstate highways. All other vehicles would have been permitted to continue to travel at the current 75 mph limit.

In the time before the Senate floor vote, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, with about 400 members living in Wyoming, encouraged truck drivers to contact their lawmakers about the issue.

Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, told Land Line he received numerous e-mails and phone calls from Wyoming-based professional drivers regarding the proposal.

“Oh my goodness, I heard from a lot of truckers,” Schiffer said. “Not just truckers in my Senate district, but truckers from all over the state. They were good. It’s always difficult if you get an e-mail and it simply says vote yes or no. The e-mails I got, they explained what the bill did to them economically, what it did to them in concerns to safety. It wasn’t just ‘vote no.’ It was ‘We don’t want you to vote for this and here’s what it will do to us.’ Those are the best kind, actually.”

Schiffer said the insight he gained from Wyoming truckers was very influential in shaping his vote and may have made the difference in assuring the deadlocked vote.

“I’m not a trucker; it’s not an industry I know a lot about. At least I know where they’re coming from,” he said.

He couldn’t speak for his fellow senators and the feedback they received, but he’s guessing they found it just as helpful as he did.

“A lot of legislation is in fact talking about things and talking with the people who actually drive the trucks in this case, asking ‘What will this do?’ and then weighing that against the safety concern, which is what brought the bill forward. It’s weighing that, then the alternatives.”

Schiffer said alternatives offered by truckers could prompt future consideration in the Legislature.

“A couple of truckers from up in my neighborhood offered some alternatives, such as speed reductions in a couple of really bad stretches on I-80. That’s a reasonable compromise, I think. Another suggestion was whether in those really high-accident rate areas, could the state look into adding a third lane on the interstate. That’s pretty constructive in my mind,” he said.

Overall, the communication with truckers left a lasting impression on Schiffer.

“It wasn’t a negative thing,” he said. “It was: ‘Yes, we recognize a problem, let’s see if all of us together can work out a solution.’”

The effort to create the split speeds had passed the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee on a 5-0 vote.

Senate President Grant Larson, R-Jackson, said he told the Senate panel during preliminary discussion that he thinks most Wyoming truckers follow the law. It is the out-of-state truckers that cause problems, he said.

Larson said he was prompted to introduce the bill after making many harrowing journeys to Cheyenne on Interstate 80, a main artery for trucks.

“I and others are absolutely tired of them roaring down the highway at any speed and putting everybody else in danger,” Larson said.

According to local media, in the couple of weeks prior to the Senate vote, I-80 had been the scene of numerous truck accidents, and the highway was closed near Laramie for a brief time after one tractor-trailer rear-ended another, killing a driver and spilling potentially explosive chemicals.

The Senate bill, however, wasn’t the only piece of legislation before Wyoming lawmakers to slow down trucks.

Rep. Kurt Bucholz, R-Saratoga, offered a bill that called for truckers traveling on interstates to slow to 65 mph “when there is evidence of moisture on the roadway.” The law would have applied only to trucks.

Truckers caught driving in excess of 70 mph with any sign of moisture present could have faced a fine of $100.

That bill, HB212, remained in the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee past the deadline for bills to move from committee, effectively killing it for the year.

keith_goble@landlinemag.com

As was recently proven by Wyoming truckers , you can have a powerful effect on the decisions lawmakers make. If you are ready to make a difference, call OOIDA’s Membership Department at 1-800-444-5791, and they’ll look up your elected officials’ contact information.

For a complete rundown of state legislation, visit landlinemag.com or ooida.com and click on “Legislative Watch.”

Arkansas
Gov. Mike Huckabee has signed a bill into law that would allow the Arkansas State Police to designate certain smaller trucking firms, driver training and technical schools to administer driving skills tests for truckers. Under the new law, previously HB1077, the State Police would continue to oversee and certify the testing process.

California
A proposed constitutional amendment would make it harder for the governor and legislators to divert highway money to other uses in the case of a fiscal emergency. Currently, a two-thirds vote in each chamber is needed to redirect the money. ACA9 would require a four-fifths majority.

Colorado
The Senate unanimously approved a measure that would raise the fine for tossing containers of human waste along highways in the state to $500 from the current $35. SB9 now moves to the House for consideration.

Florida
Identical bills in the Legislature would give troopers the flexibility to ticket drivers who go too slowly in the left lane. Under the Road Rage Reduction Act, those who lag in the left lane could be ticketed and fined $60 with four points added to their drivers’ licenses. It would not apply when there are no other vehicles in the left lane. S732 and H157 are in committees.

Georgia
A bill before the full House would let commuters use the emergency lanes and paved shoulders of some of the state’s most congested highways. HB273 would encourage – but not require – GDOT to make it happen. The so-called “flex auto lanes” would be used only in certain hours, such as morning and evening rush hours, and never for more than eight hours a day. Georgia would need federal permission to implement the program on interstates and major highways that were built with federal funds.

Idaho
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne wants to link regions of the state now isolated from one another. Dubbed “Connecting Idaho,” his goal is to bring the north and south together with a four-lane highway. Kempthorne proposed spending $1.6 billion to fund roadwork with grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds. The Legislature would have to approve those bonds.

Indiana
The speed limits for all drivers traveling rural interstates and the Indiana Toll Road would increase if legislation is approved.

SB217, offered by Sen. Greg Server, R-Evansville, would raise the speed limit from 60 mph to 65 mph for large trucks and from 65 mph to 70 mph for all other vehicles on rural interstates. The bill, which previously passed the Senate, has been sent to the House.

HB1393, sponsored by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe, would authorize the higher speeds along the Indiana Toll Road. It is before the full House.

Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Riley, has introduced a measure that would restrict all vehicles from the far left lane on interstates. HB1372 would also require large trucks, which currently are able to drive in the right-most lanes on highways with three or more lanes, to travel only in the far right lane. Any vehicles other than large trucks would be able to use the left-most lane only to pass or overtake a slower moving vehicle. It is in the House Roads and Transportation Committee.

Minnesota
The Senate Transportation Committee is reviewing a bill intended to keep drivers from lingering in the left lane. Under SF6, the left lane of all multilane roadways, including freeways and expressways, would be reserved for drivers passing other vehicles.

Mississippi
The Senate unanimously approved a bill that would appropriate $3 million to equip and train at least 50 new state troopers. SB2429 has been forwarded to the House for consideration.

Missouri
The Senate approved a bill that would overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system. SB1 includes a provision that would remove what it classifies as owner-operators from workers’ comp coverage. 

Independent owner-operators who own their own equipment are already exempt from workers’ comp benefits in the state. The provision would expand the definition of owner-operators who are currently exempt to include lease-purchase operators and lease drivers who have no ownership interest in the equipment they operate. The bill has been sent to the House.

A bill in the House Transportation Committee would prohibit large trucks from traveling in the left lane on highways with three or more lanes. Under HB183, sponsored by Rep. Jack Johnson, R-Wildwood, violators could be subject to a fine ranging from $200 to $300.

Montana
HB35 would add a $5 fee to motor vehicle registrations to help pay for 20 more Highway Patrol officers, and as many as 50 new officers in coming years. It also offers a new wage schedule based on a survey – done every two years – of the average starting pay for deputy sheriffs in the eight counties where the bulk of the officers are stationed. The bill is in the House Appropriations Committee.

New Hampshire
A proposed amendment to the state constitution would permit fuel tax proceeds to be used on commuter rail projects. The concurrent resolution – ACAR8 – would need to be approved by lawmakers and then go to a statewide vote requiring a two-thirds majority for passage in the November 2006 general election. It is in the Senate transportation panel.

New Jersey
A bill in the Assembly Transportation Committee is intended to reform the state’s transportation trust fund. A3414 would prevent the state from spending more than 50 percent of its transportation fund on debt service.

North Dakota
The House has approved a bill that would raise the limit on paved, unposted county roads to 60 mph. State law now has a 55 mph speed limit for paved roads that do not have speed limit signs. HB1299 has been sent to the Senate.

Oklahoma
HB1218 would redirect vehicle tag money from the state’s general fund to road repairs and maintenance. About $300 million of the tax collected from vehicle registration and tag fees is earmarked for education and other spending. That would not change. The general revenue fund gets the other 50 percent, or about $300 million. Under the bill, $60 million of the tag fees would be shifted to ODOT the first year, $120 million the second year, and it would cap at $180 million. It is in House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

South Carolina
A bill in the Senate Finance Committee would charge oil companies serving fuel stations in the state a 5 percent franchise fee to help pay for road work. The fee would be charged monthly to companies based on the amount of fuel sold to fuel stations, with the revenue earmarked for road improvements. S101 would raise $268 million a year. A similar House bill – H3220 – is in the House Ways and Means Committee.

H3296 would divert existing road-related taxes and fees to a highway maintenance trust fund that would raise about $100 million by 2010. The money – including driver’s license and vehicle registration fees – now pays for general state activities. The bill is in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Transportation Commission, however, has proposed paying for the roads with a new $15-per-axle user fee for all registered vehicles in the state.

Gov. Mark Sanford has allocated money in this year’s state budget to pay for 100 new state troopers. The executive budget calls for $4.5 million to be taken from the state’s general fund to pay for the new officers. An additional one-time allocation of $3.4 million would be spent on squad cars. Lawmakers must approve the money.

Vermont
A bill in the Senate Transportation Committee would borrow money from grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds, to pay for roadwork. S1 would authorize the state treasurer to borrow money through the special class of bonds to help pay for roadwork.

Virginia
The Senate Finance Committee is looking at a bill that would get “bad drivers” to help pay for building new roads in the state. HB1563, which previously passed the House, would allow the state to add millions to its transportation trust fund or help pay off bonds for roads or rail by creating fines for the worst of the worst drivers. Under the plan, motorists convicted of a serious traffic offense would pay as much as $300 annually for three years, on top of the criminal fines imposed by a court.

A House panel is reviewing a bill that would lift the sunset provision on the state’s “photo red” systems and expand the program statewide. Currently, the monitoring systems are in use only in Virginia Beach and six northern Virginia communities. The law that allows such programs has a sunset provision set to expire July 1, 2005. SB1004 previously passed the Senate.

Wyoming
Senators approved a bill that would give WYDOT $10 million to design and build multilane highways in the state, with roads impacted by mineral development being the highest priority. SF127 has moved to the House.

keith_goble@landlinemag.com

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