Colorado bills would change rules on truck contracts, tows, Independence Pass

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/18/2014

Three bills on the move at the Colorado statehouse cover unfair clauses in trucking contracts, truckers who illegally cross Independence Pass, and nonconsensual tows.

House lawmakers voted 41-23 to advance a bill to the Senate that would forbid indemnification clauses in trucking contracts. The clauses are set up to protect shippers or hold them harmless from anything that happens with a shipment.

HB1065 would outlaw provisions in contracts that provide for shippers to be indemnified for losses caused by their own negligence and would invalidate them.

Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, called it a commonsense bill.

“The heart of this bill is simply to ensure everyone takes responsibility for their own actions,” Moreno told the House Transportation Committee.

Mark Barnes, an attorney for the Colorado Petroleum Association, spoke in opposition to the bill during a recent hearing.

“Essentially, this bill is a solution in search of a problem,” Barnes testified.

He went on to refute claims that the bill would help small trucking companies.

“If you pass this legislation, property owners will be more selective in whom they do let on their property.”

States lawmakers across the country have been active the past few years changing rules on indemnity clauses. There are 40 states that have acted to forbid unfair provisions from contracts.

A full list of states, and the laws, where protections are in place is available. States yet to adopt protections are Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Life Member Jack McComb of Littleton, Colo., said that truck drivers doing business in states that have yet to take action have little or no choice but to accept the unfair terms. He told Land Line that a change forbidding the clauses should be “a no-brainer.”

Affected contracts in Colorado would be defined as “a contract, agreement, or understanding, whether written or 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.

The protection would not apply to intermodal chassis, or other intermodal equipment.

House lawmakers voted to advance a second bill to the Senate that would boost the deterrent for certain large vehicles on Independence Pass.

Colorado law prohibits oversize and overweight vehicles – including vehicles or combination vehicles longer than 35 feet, regardless of size – from using the pass that connects Twin Lakes and Aspen. There are signs on each side of the pass, which is typically open for six months each year from Memorial Day through mid-November, indicating the restriction.

HB1021 would boost the punishment for prohibited trucks and RVs found on state Highway 82 between U.S. 24 and the city of Aspen. Fines would increase from $500 to $2,000. Violations that result in closures would increase the fine to $2,500 and two license suspension points.

McComb said he welcomes stiff punishment for wayward truckers. He said there is no excuse for a trucker to miss the posted signs alerting truckers to stay off the pass.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted to advance one more bill that covers nonconsensual tows. HB1031 awaits further consideration on the Senate floor before it can move to the governor’s desk. House lawmakers already approved it.

Currently, the Public Utilities Commission regulates the rates that can be charged for a nonconsensual tow of vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds. Nonconsensual towing rates for vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds are determined by a negotiated agreement between the tower and law enforcement.

The bill would repeal the 10,000-pound weight restriction to apply the PUC’s towing rate regulation to all vehicles.

McComb said changes are needed to help ensure fair rates for all tows.

“The problem in Colorado is that the negotiations go on between law enforcement agencies and the towing companies,” he said. “There is no one involved in the negotiations that have the truck driver’s best interest in mind.”

HB1031 also creates a nine-person committee to advise the PUC on rates and investigations of overcharges. One member would represent truck drivers.

Senate Transportation Chairwoman Nancy Todd, D-Arapahoe, told the panel during discussion on the bill that nonconsensual towing is a big topic around the state and developing a committee to address concerns is very important.

“It’s important to bring all the players to the table,” Todd said.

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