Mississippi panel moves ahead with felony charges for cargo theft

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, January 30, 2015

A bill on the move at the Mississippi statehouse would dole out stiff punishment for truck, rail or container cargo thieves.

The House Judiciary B Committee voted on Thursday, Jan. 29, to advance a bill that would establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose felony charges with escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, HB1263 mirrors a 2014 Georgia law.

According to FreightWatch International, Mississippi ranks 15th in the number of cargo thefts. California ranked first and neighboring Alabama ranked 14th.

Officials at OOIDA say legislative efforts to deter cargo theft are a step in the right direction to help protect truck drivers and their property.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said in most cases of cargo theft that owner-operators would effectively be out of business.

“In the short term, without equipment there is no way to make money and in the long term they might lose business from a freight broker or motor carrier,” Matousek said.

In an effort to discourage thefts in the state, offenders would face prison in addition to monetary penalties. Specifically, thieves who steal cargo from trucks loaded with controlled substances, or pharmaceuticals, valued at less than $10,000 would face fines up to $100,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.

Theft of controlled substances valued up to $1 million could result in as much as 25 years behind bars and/or fines up to $1 million. Loads valued in excess of $1 million could result in prison terms as long as 30 years and/or fines up to $1 million.

Violators of other property heists valued as much as $1,000 would face misdemeanor charges. Theft of cargo valued as high as $10,000 would include fines up to $100,000 and/or 10 years behind bars. Stolen loads valued in excess of $10,000 could result in 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $1 million.

Another provision in the bill covers fifth wheels, and any antitheft locking device attached to the fifth wheel. Any attempt to alter, move or sell a fifth wheel could result in 10-year prison terms and/or $100,000 fines.

OOIDA Director of Security Operations Doug Morris has also said that providing truckers with safe places to park is needed to address this issue.

The Mississippi bill, HB1263, awaits further consideration in the House.

Other bills of interest at the Mississippi statehouse include:

  • HB131 would authorize commercial vehicles to bypass inspection stations if they are “unable to completely exit a highway, road or street due to a vehicle obstruction when reaching the exit lane for the inspection station.” Affected drivers would be required to stop at the next inspection station along his or her route.
  • HB996 calls for creating a commercial motor vehicle inspection program. The Department of Public Safety would be required to certify at least one station in each county.
  • HB72 would require the Department of Public Safety to provide for CDL renewals in each county seat at least once per month.
  • SB2305 would add a CDL testing site at the driver’s license examining station in Lafayette County. Mississippi now offers CDL testing at 11 locations in nine districts. Lafayette County is in District 3, which only offers CDL testing at the Nesbit facility.
  • HB149 would authorize drivers with diabetes to be examined by a board certified-advanced diabetes management nurse practitioner. State law now limits examinations to be done by a board-certified/eligible endocrinologist. In addition to the endocrinologist or medical examiner, blood glucose logs would also be authorized to be submitted to a nurse practitioner. A copy of the nurse practitioner’s report could also be provided at the time of the annual medical exam.
  • HB11 would allow people with visual impairment in one eye to obtain a CDL as long as they meet all other qualifications. Affected license holders would be limited to driving truck only within the state. Visually impaired CDL holders would also be required to undergo an annual eye examination.
  • HB129 would provide weight and size exemptions for commodities transported to or from terminals or port facilities on the Tombigbee River or Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The exemptions could not exceed federal limitations. Exempted loads would be required to stay within counties with a bridge crossing the Tombigbee River or the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Also, the Mississippi DOT must issue a permit specifying the route within the county that the truck could travel.
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