State lawmakers continue to discuss variety of issues

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 7/18/2011

As the heat-up around the country appears to be in full swing and many state legislatures have finished their work for the year, lawmakers in nearly a dozen states continue to meet. Among the topics drawing consideration at statehouses are bills that address truck contracts, truck rules and other notable issues.

A growing trend across the country to do away with indemnification clauses in motor carrier transportation contracts shows no signs of slowing. The clauses are set up to protect shippers or hold them harmless from anything that happens with a shipment.

Gov. Scott Walker is expected to add Wisconsin to the list of nearly 30 states to outlaw the unfair provisions. If signed into law, SB41 would declare motor carrier contracts that provide for shippers to be indemnified for losses caused by their own negligence to be “void and unenforceable.”

Affected contracts would be defined as “any agreement, regardless of whether it is written, oral, express, or implied,” between a motor carrier and a shipper covering the transportation of property for hire by the motor carrier, entry on property to load, unload or transport property, or any service incidental to such activity, including the storage of property.

In California, a bill halfway through the statehouse would give communities wiggle room on speed limits, and yellow light intervals.

Since 2004, California law has required cities to round up their speed limits starting at the 85th percentile of travel speeds. The posted speed must be rounded to the nearest 5 mph increment.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, said the current setup allows speeders to dictate the limits set.

AB529 would give local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic study.

Critics of the plan say it would allow communities to create speed traps.

Across the country in Massachusetts, lawmakers could soon take up for consideration a bill to put into statute authorization for large trucks equipped with APUs to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds. There are 16 states where the weight allowance is granted by enforcement policy rather than by state law. H951 would make the allowance state law.

Anyone who violates out-of-service orders in Michigan could soon pay a steeper price.

One bill calls for first offenders to face $2,500 fines. Motor carriers would also face stiff punishment. Employers convicted of knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting or authorizing a driver in OOS status to get behind the wheel would face up to $25,000 fines.

Another provision in SB495 would lengthen the duration of a driver’s suspension for violating an OOS order. Getting behind the wheel of a truck subject to an OOS order would result in the driver’s license being suspended for six months – up from 90 days.

The state has a financial incentive to make the changes. Non-compliance would cost the state a 5 percent loss of federal highway aid, complete loss of all federal grants, and a $5,000-a-day fine.

In Pennsylvania, a bill calls for aspiring truck drivers to prove they have a firm grasp of the English language to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

State law now limits the written or oral portion of the knowledge test to be given in English or Spanish. HB1180 would mandate that the state’s CDL test be given entirely in English.

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