State legislative watch
What’s happening in your state?

Included in this issue’s State Legislative Watch, you will find the annual State Legislative Directory. The directory is intended to be your reference guide for tracking issues important to you.

Taking a toll in Missouri

Proponents of toll roads have tried for years to make them an option in Missouri, and they're hoping that voters who rejected the concept in 1970 and 1992 are ready to embrace it now. But first, they must persuade the General Assembly to place the issue on the ballot.

With the state in need of road funds, a citizen advisory panel recently voted to recommend that state officials again pursue tolls as a source of revenue for highway upgrades.

In response, several proposals have since been filed in the Assembly to green light tolling drivers.

HJR31, HJR34, SJR31 and SJR38 are proposed constitutional amendments that would give the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission the authority to build and operate toll roads.

Three other proposals — HB857, SB855 and SB958 — are worded slightly different but would authorize the highway commission to fund, build and operate toll roads and bridges. The measures are contingent upon the approval of a constitutional amendment.

The Missouri Constitution currently doesn't allow the use of state funds to build toll roads. Changing the constitution would require a public vote.

Even if approved by voters, there are still obstacles to overcome.

For state-run roads, there could be legislation on specific projects to make use of the tolling authority. But for interstates, it's more complex.

Federal law prohibits enacting tolls on interstates that are now toll-free; however, a state can ask the Federal Highway Administration to toll an interstate as a pilot project.

Congress is considering eliminating the restriction as it finalizes its transportation-spending bill.

Call your state lawmakers to voice your opinion.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders of the General Assembly have worked out a budget deal. Contained in that deal is a huge cut in transportation funds — in the range of $5.4 billion — and the transfer of up to $1 billion more to other parts of the budget. Numerous highway projects are included in that total, including many designed to cut congestion.
A bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee would make it illegal for a driver to engage in any activity unrelated to operating the vehicle if that activity interferes with safe driving. Under AB1511, drivers would be cited for a traffic law violation if found engaging in the distracting activity.

HB1076 would give state troopers the flexibility to ticket drivers who go too slowly in the left lane on multilane highways. Those who lag in the left lane could be ticketed and fined between $15 and $100, with no points off the driver’s license, if they are blocking the normal flow of traffic. The measure has been sent to the House Transportation and Energy Committee.

Sen. David Adelman, D-Atlanta, announced late last year he plans to introduce legislation this session that would restrict large trucks to 55 mph on all highways in the state. Under current state law, all vehicles are permitted to travel 70 mph on rural interstates and 55 mph in urban areas. Adelman said he was also considering a provision to keep trucks out of the left lane. Call your state lawmakers to voice your opinion.

LB1015 would require businesses issuing IRS Form 1099s to independent contractors to report income paid to and withhold state income taxes from those contractors, including owner-operators. The bill would require non-resident contractors and subcontractors doing business within the state to register with the tax commissioner and to show proof of coverage by workers’ compensation and liability insurance. It has been forwarded to the Revenue Committee.

New Jersey
Gov. James McGreevey has signed a bill that sets $100 to $250 fines for drivers using hand-held cell phones. S338 does not allow police to stop drivers for using handheld phones. They can only be ticketed if stopped for another reason. The new law exempts emergency calls.

In an effort to reduce diesel emissions, S250 would bar any diesel-powered vehicle in the state from idling for longer than three minutes when the temperature is above -10 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 minutes when it’s colder than -10 F. Exceptions in both cases would exist for vehicles stopped in traffic, vehicles whose primary power source is used for necessary operations other than propulsion and temperature control. Drivers idling their trucks while sleeping or resting would also be exempt. The bill has been forwarded to the Senate Committee on Transportation.

HB60 would raise the state’s diesel fuel tax for trucks from 16 cents a gallon to 22.5 cents. Trucks under the International Registration Plan would pay 26 cents a gallon on diesel — up from 19.5 cents. The gas tax would increase from 17.5 cents a gallon to 24 cents. Delegate Harry Parrish, R-Manassas, the bill’s sponsor, said his proposal would raise about $312 million annually for transportation projects. It has been sent to the House Finance Committee. LL

A House bill would require trucks more than 18,000 pounds to travel 10 mph below the current posted speed limit. Under HB909, trucks traveling on rural interstates and freeways would be limited to 60 mph, from 70 mph; 55 mph on rural expressways and 50 mph on urban interstate highways, freeways and expressways; down from 65 mph and 60 mph, respectively. The bill also would prohibit any driver of a motor vehicle from driving more than nine consecutive hours within the state. At presstime, it has yet to be assigned to a committee. Call your state lawmakers to voice your opinion.