Alabama bill to boost penalties for steel coil ‘fall-offs’ dies

| 6/12/2007

In the final day of the regular legislative session in Alabama, an effort to curb steel coil “falls-offs” was a casualty of partisan politics that reached a crescendo with one senator taking a fist to the face.

A bill died in the Senate that sought to impose stiff penalties on truck drivers and companies for spilled steel coils. It also would have required trucking companies to certify that haulers know how to load steel coils properly.

The measure – HB541 – was awaiting consideration on the Senate floor when a Democratic senator asked that most bills sponsored by Republicans in the House be “carried over.” The move essentially killed bills in the final hours of the session.

Sen. Phil Poole, D-Tuscaloosa, made the request in response to action by Republican Gov Bob Riley. The governor used his line-item veto power to remove an appropriation of $1 million from the state’s general fund for road projects in Tuscaloosa County.

Partisan politics were so intense this session that at one point, Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, slugged Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, on the Senate floor after an alleged name-calling incident.

Supporters said the political power play that resulted in the steel coil securement bill being killed means lives will continue to be at risk. They said stricter rules are needed because of continuing problems in the state with steel coils coming dislodged from the backs of flatbed trailers.

Since 1987, nearly 30 trucks have lost loads of steel coils on interstates in the Birmingham, AL, area alone. Half of the spills in Birmingham have occurred since March 2004, The Birmingham News reported.

Damage from the coil spills has averaged $200,000 to $300,000 per repair.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, the bill would have allowed troopers to arrest coil haulers who violate the rules, whether the spill was witnessed or not. In addition to jail time, truckers would have faced up to $5,000 fines while companies would have faced up to $10,000 fines.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor