‘I am still just a bill’
As fall approaches, some state legislatures are still in regular session, and dozens of trucking-related bills remain on the radar.

By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Lawmakers throughout the country this year spent a lot of time discussing transportation funding. The issue continues to be considered in states such as California. Citing concerns about the sustainability of the state’s excise tax, the state Senate voted to advance a bill to the Assembly that would set up a voluntary program to test a new way to tax highway users.

SB1077 would establish a pilot program in the state to assess the feasibility of taxing truckers and other drivers based on vehicle miles traveled in the state. The VMT would replace the state’s fuel tax as people are driving vehicles that get better mileage.

States still in regular session and their adjournment dates

California ................August 2014
Pennsylvania ..........November 2014
Michigan .................December 2014
Ohio .........................December 2014
Massachusetts .......January 2015
New Jersey .............January 2015

In Michigan, lawmakers are considering a transportation funding package that includes phasing in gas and diesel tax increases through 2018 and then tying the tax rates to inflation. Another part of the plan would route a portion of the existing 6 percent sales tax collected at the pump to transportation. Currently, the revenue is routed to the state’s general fund. Also included are plans to increase oversize and overweight fees and fines.

Competing bills at the New Jersey statehouse cover independent contractors. S992/A2860 would classify drayage truck operators and parcel drivers as company employees. Specifically, port truckers, including owner-operators going into a port, would be deemed employees unless they can satisfy a three-part test.

An alternative sought by truckers, S2033, would exempt owner-operators from employment laws for purposes of unemployment insurance and taxes, as long as they meet conditions related to federal licensing and leasing regulations, lease purchase, and form 1099 reporting. The language expressly prohibits classifying an individual as an independent contractor if the individual leases or finances a truck from an entity, such as a trucking company, for which services are performed.

Also in the Garden State is a bill that would direct the Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority to study and report on additional opportunities to make money along the Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway by providing new and better services at rest areas and welcome centers.

A801 includes analyses of best practices at rest areas and service plazas in neighboring states; and whether the authority is maximizing revenues from billboards, cellphone towers, and other advertising.

A possible change in the Massachusetts idling law is under review. S1636 would lower the allowable idling times for all vehicles from five minutes to two minutes. Exceptions to the rule are authorized for heating or cooling a vehicle to help ensure the driver’s safety. Additional exceptions are made for vehicles including refrigerator units on trucks with perishable goods; and vehicles operating special equipment, such as a lift.

Michigan lawmakers are looking at a bill that could increase speeds for motorists on rural interstates to 80 mph while trucks could be authorized to drive 70 mph – up from 70 and 60 mph, respectively. SB896 could result in urban interstates posted at 70 mph while state highways could be posted at 65 mph. County roads could be posted at 60 mph.

Hidden compartments
A Pennsylvania bill would make it a crime to possess a vehicle, including a large truck, with concealed compartments used for smuggling. HB1537 would create a provision authorizing convictions when there is intent to use the false, or secret, compartments for illegal activity. Violators would face jail time and loss of vehicle.

An exemption would be applied to “a compartment used or possessed solely for the purpose of securing valuables, electronics, firearms or other personal property that is lawfully possessed.”

Massachusetts lawmakers are reviewing a similar bill, but H3240 doesn’t include the exemption. Violators would face up to five years behind bars and loss of vehicle.

Safety measures
One Pennsylvania bill would permit local and regional police officers to use radar to nab speeders. Pennsylvania now prohibits municipal police from enforcing speed limits with radar. Since 1961, only state troopers are allowed to use radar.

Another Pennsylvania bill is intended to encourage car and truck drivers to clear snow and ice off their vehicles. SB746 would boost the maximum fine if the wintry precipitation causes serious injury or death from $1,000 to $1,200, as well as allow police to ticket drivers for failure to clear snow or ice before they take to the roads.

The bill would excuse drivers for snow or ice that accumulates on a vehicle while out on the road.

Across the state line in Ohio, a bill is intended to limit, or outright ban, the use of red-light and speed cameras. SB342 specifies that speeding violations could only be issued to drivers exceeding the posted limit by more than 10 mph. In addition, police officers would be required to be present at camera sites to witness violations and pull over offenders.

Also in the Buckeye State is a bill that would allow travelers to flash headlights or use high beams to warn drivers about what is ahead.

Ohio law doesn’t prohibit the practice but Rep. John Becker, R-Union Township, wants to make sure that flashing lights to warn others is not illegal.

A New Jersey bill addresses the same issue. The bills would clarify that drivers could not be cited and fined for alerting other travelers about police or traffic hazards.

Another New Jersey bill covers concerns about ticket quotas. A3457 would forbid evaluating police officers based on the number of tickets written or arrests made.

Halfway through the New Jersey statehouse is a bill that would require all new or used municipal police vehicles that are primarily used for traffic stops to be equipped with cameras. A2280 includes a provision to authorize body cameras. To foot the bill for adding cameras, drunken driving fines would include a $25 surcharge.

In North Carolina, one bill would return red-light cameras to the city of Fayetteville. H1151 would authorize $100 fines for offenders – up from $50 when the program was halted eight years ago. LL