Kentucky bills cover fuel taxes, truck enforcement, speeds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, December 06, 2013

Kentucky state lawmakers are busy getting ready for the upcoming regular session. Among the issues covered in prefiled legislation are truck enforcement officers, automatic fuel tax increases, speed limits and road safety.

Sen. Ray Jones II, D-Pikeville, has filed a bill that’s intended to ensure that truck enforcement officers and state troopers are paid according to their rank. Specifically, the bill would require that Commercial Vehicle Enforcement officers be paid the same as Kentucky State Police officers with equivalent rank, grade and position.

Another bill targets automatic increases to the state’s fuel tax enacted more than three decades ago.

The 1980 law was enacted to address concerns that rising fuel costs would result in people buying less at the pump. As a result, the state would get less tax money for road and bridge work.

Kentucky law authorizes fuel tax rates to be adjusted every three months based on a formula that ties the rate to wholesale fuel prices. In October, the automatic increase resulted in fuel taxes with a surcharge rising to 41.4 cents per gallon for diesel and 36.7 cents for gas.

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, filed a bill that would remove any adjustment to the average wholesale price of fuel without direct action of the General Assembly.

Advocates say that lawmakers should be required to sign off on tax increases.

A separate bill would increase speeds for all vehicles on certain roadways. Sponsored by Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, the proposal would raise speeds on four-lane highways from 55 to 65 mph where feasible.

Calloway and Graves chambers of commerce in southwest Kentucky have requested the change citing the benefits of allowing commerce to move more quickly.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, is behind a bill that would provide a break in tolls for certain drivers crossing the Ohio River bridges that link Louisville and southern Indiana.

Preliminary plans put toll rates at $1 for commuters, $2 for other motorists, and $10 to $12 for large trucks. The rates will be charged on two new bridge spans under construction and the existing span that carries Interstate 65.

Low-income workers who commute by personal vehicle to Indiana and qualify for the federal earned income tax credit would be eligible to receive annual toll credits or rebates. The tax credit is available to certain workers earning up to $13,980 annually.

Another bill filed for the upcoming session would require most drivers to flip on their headlights when precipitation makes use of windshield wipers necessary. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, the bill would mandate that anyone behind the wheel of a vehicle with a model year of 2000 or newer have their lights on during bad weather.

Violators would face fines of $20 to $100.

One more bill would increase penalties for repeat offenders of the state’s drunken driving rules. Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, is trying again to enact a three-tier set of penalties – down from four tiers.

Also, the state’s five-year “look back” window to monitor prior offenses would be doubled to 10 years.

In addition, forfeiture of an offender’s vehicles would be permitted if their license had been previously suspended.

The bills can be considered during the session that begins Jan. 7, 2014.

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