State Watch
What’s happening in your state legislature?

By Keith Goble
state legislative editor


Included in this issue’s State Watch, you’ll find the annual State Legislative Guide, beginning on Page 46. The directory is your reference guide for tracking issues important to you.

The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist have signed off on a three-part rail package that is intended to help the state secure additional federal funding for public transportation. House Bill 1-B creates a new agency responsible for all passenger rail projects in the state. It also allots more funds for the Tri-Rail line in South Florida and enough money to buy 61 miles of tracks from CSX Transportation for a rail project in metro Orlando, dubbed SunRail.

A bill that has been prefiled for consideration during the upcoming regular session would set statewide standards for red-light cameras. S294 would split revenue on the $150 ticket between the cities and counties where the roads are located and the state.

A series of bills in the Joint Committee on Transportation would boost the state’s fuel tax rate and would outlaw the use of a vehicle-miles traveled tax.

H3312 would increase the state’s 23.5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax by 50 cents to help cover the Mass Turnpike’s debts related to the Big Dig project.

H3188 would boost the fuel tax by 10 cents and allow for penny increases each year. The revenue would be routed to the new Transportation Trust Fund. A portion of the money would also be used for the Mass Pike, preventing toll increases and ultimately dismantling all tolls.

H3262 calls for eliminating certain tolls on the Mass Pike and relying on a 29-cent-per-gallon tax increase to make up for the revenue hit. Travelers no longer would be charged to take the tollway from Weston to Boston.

Another bill – H3215 – would forbid the state, counties, cities or towns to collect a tax based on the mileage a privately owned vehicle is driven.

Also in the transportation panel is a bill that addresses road rage. H3279 would allow law enforcement to arrest drivers for actions that include following too closely, “purposely braking to endanger or annoy” the driver of a following vehicle, threatening another driver, making obscene gestures and unnecessary honking.

Violators would face the possibility of fines up to $1,000 and/or two and one-half years in prison. In addition to anger management classes, drivers would have their licenses revoked for between one year and five years.

Six efforts intended to make roadways safer would require travelers to flip on their headlights when the windshield wipers are in use.

Two bills on the Senate floor would increase the diesel tax by 4 cents per gallon and pay for bridge repairs.

SB862 would increase the diesel tax from 15 cents per gallon to 19 cents – the same as the gas tax. As written, the tax increase would primarily apply to interstate trucking operations while intrastate truckers would not be affected. A separate bill to cover intrastate operations is supposed to be in the works.

SB863 would dedicate revenue from a proposed diesel tax increase solely for bridge repairs. The bill specifies that half of the 4-cent-per-gallon increase would be allotted for state bridges while local bridges would get the rest.

A new law is intended to lessen the potential blow on the pocketbooks of truck owners or drivers for truck weight violations.

Until now, Michigan has mandated that the owner or driver of any vehicles loaded and driven or moved on highways when overweight must pay a fine based on the weight of the excess load and its distribution. If the person doesn’t immediately pay the fine or post bond in an amount double the fine, the vehicle must be impounded.

SB433 eliminates the requirement to double bond amounts. Instead, bonds posted for overweight vehicles will be for the amount of the fines.

The House forwarded to the Senate a measure that would require moving drivable wrecked vehicles off the road. HB5140 calls for mandating that drivers – or licensed passengers – remove their vehicles from traffic lanes as long as the vehicles are still drivable and no serious injuries were suffered. Failure to move vehicles would result in $105 fines.

Also advancing from the House to the Senate is a bill addressing unpaid parking tickets. HB4726 would allow the state to block driver’s license renewals for people who accumulate three or more unpaid parking tickets.

Michigan law now requires six or more unpaid parking tickets from the same community before a hold can be put on a motorist’s driver’s license renewal.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, has authored a bill – SB585 – to authorize the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges. It is contingent on the approval of a constitutional amendment. With that in mind, Bartle offered SJR19 to amend the state constitution to grant the highway commission the authority needed. The constitution currently doesn’t allow the use of state funds to build toll roads. Changing the constitution would require a public vote.

A couple of bills target cities’ use of automated cameras. HB1229 is intended to discourage communities from using red-light cameras as a “money grab.” Cities using the technology would be required to route all fines collected to the local school district. Typically, the revenue is put into the general fund.

Out of concern that the cameras are unconstitutional, SB637 would prohibit local governments from using photo systems at intersections to ticket drivers.

Another bill – HB1223 – would prohibit police from handing out pricey speeding tickets in construction zones when workers aren’t on the job. Existing Missouri law authorizes speeding fines in construction zones to be as much as triple the regular amount.

Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, has introduced a bill that would abolish the Turnpike Commission and shift turnpike operations to the Pennsylvania DOT. HB2134 would assign Turnpike operations to a deputy secretary of toll administration within PennDOT.

Gov. Donald Carcieri signed a bill into law allowing police to obtain search warrants compelling chemical substance tests for certain suspected drunken drivers.

H5039 gives officers the authority, after obtaining a search warrant, to have hospitals take blood from drunken-driving suspects who are involved in serious or fatal wrecks.

Hospitals also can draw blood from suspects before a warrant is obtained. They would be required to hold it until the warrant is approved.

A bill from Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, would extend the state’s idling ban to include large trucks and delivery vehicles. Currently, buses cannot idle outside of schools.

H97 would place time restrictions on the idling of trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds. Trucks could not idle for more than five minutes in any 60-minute period. Violators would face fines of up to $500.

While the bill doesn’t include any idling exemptions for extreme temperatures, the DMV would be in charge of setting additional “times or circumstances that reasonably require the idling of an engine.”

The commissioner of motor vehicles also would be responsible for reviewing standards in effect in other states and work toward maintaining consistency with those standards.

Exceptions would be made for situations when idling is necessary to operate defrosters, heaters or air conditioners “to ensure the health or safety of the driver of passengers.” It also would make exceptions for operating auxiliary equipment.

The Assembly has forwarded a bill to the Senate that addresses portable scales. Wisconsin law now requires weighing of vehicles and loads on a portable scale or a certified stationary scale. Portable scales must be tested every 90 days to help ensure proper working order.

AB455 would extend the testing requirement to every 180 days. LL