Chain law bill loses traction
DENVER – The House Transportation and Energy Committee failed to pass a controversial bill to stiffen the state’s existing chain law on Tuesday afternoon, but stopped short of killing the bill completely.The bill, proposed by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, would increase the fine from $100 to $500 for commercial vehicle drivers who neglect to chain up their trucks when the chain law is in effect. If a driver blocked a lane of traffic as a result of not abiding by the law, that person’s Commercial Driver’s License would be subject to a 4-point penalty. Currently, a truck driver does not accumulate points for violating the chain law.The committee, on which Gibbs sits, voted 7-6 against moving the bill forward, but defeated a motion to postpone the bill indefinitely, which would have essentially killed it for good.Gibbs said he had been working diligently to secure support from his colleagues and was disappointed that two representatives switched their vote at the 11th hour.Gibbs said he hopes to bring back the bill this session, and will begin working with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Motor Carriers Association and possibly the I-70 Coalition to find common ground on the issue.”My challenge now is to try to bring stakeholder groups together … to explore what we can do for the short term and the long term, and look at my bill to see how that fits in to what the needs are and we’ll just start working hard,” Gibbs said.In a two-hour committee hearing last Thursday, truck drivers testified against the bill, saying there aren’t enough safe, designated chain-up areas along the I-70 corridor, or enough spaces within those areas to accommodate all the trucks while drivers put on the chains. Some said that the Colorado Department of Transportation leaves the law in effect for too long, causing drivers to wear out chains on dry roads where extra precautions aren’t needed.A crowd from the mountain communities, including 10 elected officials, residents and police officers from Summit County, rallied in favor of the bill. Supporters spoke about the $800,000 per hour – a number figured by CDOT – economic impact to the state when the interstate is blocked because a truck driver neglected to chain up, and of safety concerns, particularly when emergency vehicles can’t pass because the road is blocked.Committee Chairperson Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo, layed over the bill following Thursday’s hearing to give the two sides a few more days to reach a compromise. On Tuesday, the committee reconvened for the vote. At that time, Gibbs asked his colleagues to pass his bill, pointing out that if drivers paid their tickets within 20 days, the penalty would be dropped to two points. Drivers don’t lose their CDLs until they hit 18 points in three years’ time, Gibbs said.”That means you can break the law nine times and just barely lose your license,” Gibbs said. “I think this bill is not necessarily the fix-all for I-70, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.”Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, said she originally supported Gibbs’ bill, but after hearing last week’s testimony from truckers about the space shortage on the interstate, she swayed the other way.”It seems to me like this is everybody’s problem,” Primavera said. “To try and say it’s just the truckers’ problem, it’s hard for me to do at this point in time.”Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, applauded Gibbs for his efforts to find a solution to the problem, but said the lack of proper enforcement of the chain law needs to be addressed, especially because the current fine hasn’t been a deterrent.”I’m not sure this is the answer,” Sonnenberg said.Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, supported Gibbs’ bill, calling I-70 a “crucial economic artery” in the state.”I see this bill as one small piece of the puzzle (to the I-70 problem), that’s all,” he said. “I think it moves us a small portion of the way to where it needs to be.”Two amendments to the bill did pass on Tuesday and will remain with the bill in the event it has a second life.The first, proposed by Gibbs, would exclude tow truck drivers from the new penalties. It would also reserve the estimated $83,000 per year collected in new fines for the Highway Construction Workers’ Safety Fund to be used to address some of the truckers’ safety concerns, like poor lighting in chain-up areas.Another amendment, proposed by Rep. Gwyn Green, D-Lakewood/Golden, would require CDOT to identify parking spaces in towns along I-70 where truckers could chain up, in order to address the parking shortage on the interstate.
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