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State Update
Legislative issues affecting truckers still active

By Keith Goble
state legislative editor

 

As fall draws closer, a handful of state legislatures are still in regular session, and dozens of trucking-related bills remain up in the air. If your home base is in one of these states, there is still time to speak out and let your lawmakers know what you think.

Bills of note

With the clock ticking on a late July adjournment, lawmakers in North Carolina were taking a long look at legislation that would allow longer tractor-trailers on more roads throughout the state. North Carolina law now allows 53-foot trailers on only 5,600 miles of interstates and designated highways. Trucks are limited to 48-foot trailers on all other roadways.

The bill – SB1695 – would increase the length of trucks allowed on the state’s primary roads to 53 feet. From the main roads, trucks would be allowed to travel up to three miles on their tributaries. At press time in July, the bill was in the House Finance Committee. The Senate had already approved it.

The length of trucks also is getting attention in the California statehouse. An effort there urges the resistance of any attempts to allow longer, heavier trucks on roadways throughout the state.

An Assembly Joint Resolution – AJR52 – is intended to affirm opposition at all levels of government for proposals authorizing the size or weight of commercial vehicles to be increased. There is concern about the effect that increases would have on highways and bridges, wrote Assemblywoman Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach.

At press time the non-binding resolution was awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. The Assembly had previously approved it.

In New Jersey, Bill A2118 would eliminate uniform speed limits on rural highways.

Another bill – A2415 – would prohibit commercial trucks from being driven in the state unless they are equipped with governors. For more details, see Page 47. Both bills are in an Assembly committee.

While legislation in New Jersey would slow trucks down, a Pennsylvania bill is intended to shut trucks off.

The Keystone State already limits idling in Allegheny County and the city of Philadelphia. SB295 would put in place idling limits statewide. Diesel-powered commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds would be limited to idling for no more than five minutes per hour.

Affected trucks would be exempted from the time limit rule when temperatures are lower than 40 degrees or higher than 75 degrees. The temperature exemption would expire May 1, 2010.

Other exceptions would include situations when idling is necessary “to operate defrosters, heaters, air conditioners or cargo refrigeration equipment.” In addition, idling restrictions would not apply to trucks equipped with 2007 or newer diesel motors with certification from the California Air Resources Board. The Senate-approved bill is in a House committee.

A bill awaiting consideration on the Ohio House floor would require aspiring truck drivers to have a firm grasp of the English language to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

Since fall 2007, Ohio has allowed the written part of the test to be given in Spanish. Interpreters are allowed to assist applicants who don’t speak English. However, the driving portion of the test is required to be English-only. HB409 would require that the state’s CDL test be given entirely in English.

Foreign drivers are also the focus of a piece of legislation in Pennsylvania. House Resolution 612 urges the Bush administration and the U.S. DOT to obey federal law regarding trucks from Mexico that are participating in a pilot program.

Started in September 2007, the pilot project has authorized tractor-trailers from 26 Mexico-based trucking operations to cross the border and travel throughout the U.S.

Congress approved legislation late last year to stop funding for the pilot program, citing concerns that Mexican trucks don’t meet U.S. safety standards. The Bush administration and U.S. DOT, however, are continuing to allow the Mexico-based trucks to cross the border. The non-binding resolution is awaiting consideration on the House floor.

A New Jersey bill would require terminals to ensure that containers are not overweight or improperly loaded. Under A1022, terminal operators would be forced to weigh each container upon its arrival at the terminal. Overweight containers would be either repacked at the port or returned to the sender. Any terminal found violating the order would be fined $500, per occurrence.

Truckers forced to wait in line at the port to load or unload are the subject of another bill. A1023 would prohibit ports from making a truck wait longer than 30 minutes before beginning loading or off-loading container cargo at a terminal. Violators would be subject to fines of as much as $750 per occurrence.

Fuel cost initiatives

With fuel prices soaring, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said she expects legislation to be introduced in the state’s House that would expand the state attorney general’s authority to investigate excessive fuel prices. Court-ordered subpoenas based on probable cause no longer would be needed before action could be taken against suspected violators. It also would define what is considered to be grossly excessive pricing for goods and services.

Another Michigan bill would broaden the ability of the attorney general and local prosecutors to investigate anti-competitive conduct by fuel retailers.

Also in the works at press time in Michigan was an initiative to temporarily stop collection of a general sales tax tagged on to fuel purchases. Two House Republicans unveiled a plan to eliminate the 6 percent sales tax on fuel. The state’s fuel excise tax would not be affected. Reps. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Paul Opsommer of DeWitt said a summertime tax moratorium would save consumers about 25 cents per gallon at current prices.

In North Carolina, a bill in the House Finance Committee would give motorists and truck drivers some relief at the fuel pump. HB2587 would eliminate a portion of the state’s 29.9-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel purchases. The tax is composed of a 17.5-cent flat rate and a 12.4-cent wholesale component.

The bill would eliminate the wholesale portion of the tax. At press time, it was in the House Finance Committee.

Tolling initiatives

The most pressing matters left unresolved may be in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In New Jersey, legislators have lined up in opposition to leasing roadways in the state. Among the bills offered to thwart privatization deals is a measure – A1678 – that would prohibit foreign groups from taking over operation of infrastructure, such as the New Jersey Turnpike.

A separate effort – A1681 – would allow the governor to enter into an agreement with the governor in Pennsylvania to prohibit the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission from selling or leasing the rights to collect tolls or other revenues to foreign groups or foreign governments. The governor would be allowed to petition Congress for its consent to the compact agreement.

Another bill would require the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to reduce toll rates for commercial trucks. S587 is intended to encourage truck drivers to use the tollway instead of routes, such as U.S. 1, 206 and 31.

The measures are in committee in their respective chambers.

Discontent among lawmakers in Pennsylvania about the possibility of Interstate 80 being turned into a toll road has spawned multiple bills. Encouraged by Gov. Ed Rendell, HB2593 would allow private operators to take over control of the main line of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Northeast Extension.

The bill also would void current law that authorizes the state to pursue tolls for car and truck drivers to use Interstate 80. The U.S. DOT is reviewing the state’s application to move forward. However, the measure appears to be stalled in committee. For more information, see Page 36.

Another bill includes the repeal of the law authorizing tolls to be placed on I-80. In addition, SB1280 would allow the Turnpike to be auctioned in three parts to private American-based and majority American-owned companies.

One more bill would allow the state government or public transportation authorities to lease roads, bridges and more. SB1158 would exclude handing over the Turnpike, unless the Legislature approves it.

A conference committee in North Carolina is working on hammering out a compromise on the state’s budget bill. One provision in the measure would fund a toll road in western Wake County. The budget provision in HB2436 would allot the Turnpike Authority $25 million annually to help pay off the cost of construction for the southern portion of a proposed extension of Interstate 540, dubbed the Triangle Expressway.

Money for the 18.8-mile stretch of roadway would come via a phase-out of the $172.5 million that annually is rerouted from the state’s Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund. The roadway would extend I-540 from Morrisville to Holly Springs. The route is slated to be toll-free north of state Route 55.

Safety measures

Several states have proposals intended to make roadways safer by targeting distracted drivers.

The California Assembly advanced a bill to the Senate that would prohibit people from driving while holding animals in their arms or lap. The bill is AB2233. Current state law prohibits people from driving with their view obstructed or if there is interference with their control of the vehicle. There is no limitation that prevents pets from roaming freely in vehicles.

In Massachusetts, the state’s House voted to forward a bill to the Senate that would prohibit drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones and text messaging while driving. H4477 would make it a primary offense for drivers to use hand-held mobile devices for talking or texting while behind the wheel.

Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free accessory would be permitted. Drivers could use their hands to dial and hang up the phone, as long as they use an earpiece or speakerphone during their calls.

New teen drivers with junior operator licenses also would be prohibited from using hands-free devices. Youngsters found in violation would face fines and the suspension of their licenses.

A legislative package making its way through the Michigan House addresses similar concerns. One bill – HB4982 – would prohibit drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still be permitted.

Another Michigan bill – HB5117 – would prohibit drivers from reading, writing or sending text messages. The final bill in the package – HB5396 – would prohibit adding points to offenders’ driver’s licenses. Violations also could be enforced solely as a secondary offense.

Texting while at the wheel also is the target of legislation in the Ohio House. HB425 would make it illegal for people to operate a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages on an electronic wireless device, such as a BlackBerry.

Violations would be a secondary offense. If a wreck occurred while texting, offenders would face six-month license suspensions.

A bill in New Jersey would permit police to pull over cars and trucks that are not cleared of snow and ice. S520 would make drivers responsible for making “all reasonable efforts to remove accumulated ice or snow from the motor vehicle, including the hood, trunk and roof prior to operation.”

The Assembly cleared the bill for consideration in the Senate. LL

keith_goble@landlinemag.com

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