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House panel passes controversial statewide heavy-truck bill

The House Transportation Committee has voted in favor of SB 1117, the controversial bill to open all non-freeway routes statewide to extra-heavy trucks of up to 129,000 pounds, if local road jurisdictions determine that the roads meet ITD-set engineering standards. The bill was strongly opposed by North Idaho residents, truckers, local officials and more; it was backed by southern Idaho agricultural interests along with North Idaho mills that want to start trucking the extra-big loads along Highway 95 in North Idaho. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Opponents of the measure worked with sponsors over the weekend and proposed a slew of amendments to clarify that local jurisdictions wouldn’t be forced to approve the extra-heavy trucks on their local roads against their will. But the sponsors today said they’d prefer that those amendments follow in a separate “trailer bill” rather than see SB 1117 amended in the House.

Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I feel real good about this now with the trailer bill. I feel economic benefits far outweigh the other concerns.” He moved to approve the bill as-is. But Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said he’d be more comfortable with pairing the amendments and the bill together; he moved to send the bill to the House’s amending order with committee amendments attached. However, that motion was defeated on a 6-10 vote.

In the final vote, Gestrin and Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, joined the panel’s minority Democrats in opposing the bill. Henderson, who favored sending it to the amending order, said, “I voted no because the trailer bill represents what my constituents in the 3rd District wanted. It takes out any ambiguities.”

The hearing stretched over two days; the first part of it, last Thursday, ran long into the evening before the chairman finally called a halt well after 7 p.m. Among those who testified on Thursday night was Wally Burchak, part-owner of KBC Trucking in Kooskia, who said, “I have not talked to a single person in the transportation industry that is for this because of the safety concerns. We have an enormous amount of concern over the safety of this for these roads in northern Idaho.” He said, “Our roads are steep, they’re windy, they’re narrow, and a significant proportion of them are two-lane roads.” He said, “What scares our drivers about this bill is you’re going to increase loads and weight on roads that do not have good sight lines.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, opposed the bill, with or without amendments. “I would never like to be seen as someone that stands in opposition to progress, but I think that for progress to be successful we have to be ready for it, and I think that we really are not ready for this,” she said. “We studied those experimental routes in southeast Idaho for quite some time.”

Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, noted that the bill was introduced in the Senate. “Here it’s had all this time to get any amendments on it,” he said. “If it was this big of a deal why didn’t it get done sooner?” He said, “If the trailer bill doesn’t get done ‘til next year, that’s the way it goes.”

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, the committee chairman, said he “absolutely” planned to hold a hearing on the trailer bill, and will do so “the second it gets available to my committee.” Henderson said he has faith that the trailer bill will come forward. “I’ve got confidence, because I think people like Ken McClure and that group are people of their word,” he said.

SB 1117 now moves to the full House.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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