'Censorship is expensive'

By Keith Goble,

ARKANSAS

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill into law to outlaw provisions in trucking contracts that provide for shippers to be indemnified for losses caused by their own negligence and make them “void and unenforceable.” SB755 defines affected contracts as “an express or implied contract, agreement, or understanding” 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, including the storage of property.

COLORADO

One bill nearing passage, HB1134, would extend the exemption from the state’s heavy-duty vehicle emissions testing for trucks with gross vehicle weight in excess of 26,000 pounds from four to six years for 2014 and newer model years.

CONNECTICUT

A Senate bill covers road cleanup by tow truck operators at wreck scenes. SB505 would require tow operators to clean up debris left behind after a vehicle accident.

A separate bill, HB6818, would authorize charging toll taxes to highway users at the state’s eight limited-access border crossings.

GEORGIA

Gov. Nathan Deal signed a transportation funding bill into law that sets the gas tax rate at 26 cents per gallon and the diesel rate at 29 cents. Fuel tax rates will also be adjusted to inflation. HB170 includes a provision to make truckers responsible for paying an additional tax, dubbed the “highway impact fee.” Commercial vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds will be assessed a $100 annual fee.

IOWA

Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law to increase the tax rate on gas, diesel and alternative fuels. SF257 increases the tax rate on diesel from 22.5 cents to 32.5 cents and the tax rate on gas from 21 cents to 31 cents. Another component of the funding plan will result in permit fee increases for oversize and overweight trucks beginning Jan. 1, 2016. An additional fee increase will be implemented in 2017.

KENTUCKY

Gov. Steve Beshear put his signature on a bill to thwart a nearly dime decrease in Kentucky’s fuel tax rates over a period of four months. HB299 initially lowers the tax rates by 1.6 cents, and freezes the floor on the state’s variable rate that is adjusted every three months. Another change authorizes annual adjustments in the tax rate instead of quarterly adjustments. In addition, a variance of up to

10 percent each year is allowed.

MARYLAND

The Senate voted 39-7 to advance a bill to the House that would open the door to increasing interstate and state expressway speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph. SB44 would leave the final decision on whether to increase speeds to the State Highway Administration. An identical House bill, HB194, has advanced from the House to the Senate.

Missouri

A bill moving through the House would open up to trucks the far left lane on certain multilane highways in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas. HB164 would allow large trucks to merge left for passing only.

A separate Senate bill would set up a rotation list for towing. SB232 would make the Missouri State Highway Patrol responsible for setting up rotations to tow or remove disabled vehicles at accident scenes.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Multiple bills cover transportation funding. HB591 would repeal a 2014 law tying the state’s tax rate with inflation.

HB460 would study alternatives to the fuel tax to fund roads and bridges.

HB384 would study the feasibility of privatizing the state’s toll system.

NORTH DAKOTA

Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a bill into law that provides counties, cities and the North Dakota DOT with $1.1 billion to get started on road and other infrastructure projects. Most of the money in SB2013 is earmarked for the oil-producing region in the western part of the state.

OHIO

A House bill, HB100, would ban trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds from using the far left lane on highways with three or more lanes in the same direction. Offenders would face fines up to $500 and/or up to 60 days behind bars.

PENNSYLVANIA

One Senate bill would permit police to pull over truckers whose vehicles were not cleared of snow and ice. SB94 focuses solely on trucks weighing in excess of 48,000 pounds. Drivers would be excused for snow or ice that accumulates on a vehicle while out on the road.

A House bill is intended to entice more drivers to stay to the right on multi-lane roadways. HB94 would increase fines for failure to keep right from $25 to $100.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Two Senate bills are of note. S195 would require the state DOT to charge highway users to access Interstate 95 where it crosses Lake Marion in either Orangeburg County or Clarendon County.

S244 would authorize counties to raise taxes for local road work. Voters would get the final say on adding up to a 5-cent-per-gallon tax on fuel purchases, including diesel, to pay for repairs and fixes.

SOUTH DAKOTA

A new law already in effect sets the state’s fuel tax rate at 28 cents per gallon – up from 22 cents. SB1 also includes a 5-mph increase on rural portions of interstate. As a result, the speed limit for all vehicles is now 80 mph.

TEXAS

The Senate approved a bill that would rely on the transfer of motor vehicle sales tax revenue from the state’s General Fund to aid non-toll road projects. Starting in 2018, SB5 would cap vehicle sales tax revenue routed to the General Fund at $2.5 billion. The next $2.5 billion would be earmarked for the highway account. The bill calls for additional revenue from the 6.25-percent vehicle sales tax to be split between the accounts.

Another Senate-approved measure, SJR5, would let voters decide on the transfer of motor vehicle sales tax revenue to aid non-toll road projects.

Other bills of note that cover road funding include the following:

• HB1734 would require toll road entities to relinquish tolled roadways to the state and remove any tolls once the toll revenue bonds for a project are paid in full. Tolling entities would also be prohibited from changing any finance agreements to extend the amount of time until the project is paid in full.

• HB1834 would require toll roads to be paid out in 20 years and changed to a toll-free roadway.

• HB1835 would prohibit the Texas DOT from converting existing non-toll lanes to toll lanes.

• HB1836 would route 10 percent of sales taxes to the state highway fund for non-toll roads.

• HB1838 would require that all toll roads become toll-free roads within 30 years.

UTAH

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law to raise the state’s fuel tax rate by 5 cents to 29.5 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, 2016. The excise rate will be converted into a sales tax, which allows for regular increases.

HB362 will also impose a 12 percent tax on fuel once the wholesale price reaches $2.45 per gallon. The rate will be adjusted annually but will be capped at 40 cents. A 29-cent-per-gallon floor is also included. In addition, local governments are allowed to ask voters to raise sales taxes for roads and transit.

VIRGINIA

Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill into law that requires the Virginia DOT to analyze a proposed public-private partnership from a public interest standpoint before signing off on it. HB1886 would also put state lawmakers on a steering committee that determines whether a project should move forward as a P3 project. LL