Session Review: Transportation and Telecommunications

The most prominent transportation-related bill passed this session commits 0.25 cents of the state’s 5.5-cent sales tax to roads projects, beginning in fiscal year 2013-14. Introduced by committee chairperson Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, LB84 was considered by the Revenue Committee and passed 33-10.

Other legislation related to motor vehicles, licensing and duties of the Public Service Commission (PSC) was considered by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Motor vehicles

Agreements between motor vehicle manufacturers and dealers were affected by the passage of LB477, introduced by Fischer.

Passed 46-0, the bill prohibits motor vehicle manufacturers from requiring new motor vehicle dealers in the state to retain parts or accessories that were not obtained through a specific order and not sold within 12 months; maintain exclusive sales facilities or display space, personnel, service, parts or administrative facilities for a line-make, unless it is justified by reasonable business considerations; or enter into any agreement with a manufacturer, factory branch, distributor, distributor branch or one of its affiliates that gives site control of the dealer premise and does not terminate under certain conditions.

The bill also requires manufacturers to compensate new dealers for warranty and recall obligations related to repair, service and installation. A dealer’s claim for warranty compensation may be denied only if certain criteria are met. The bill prohibits franchisors from sharing or selling private customer information obtained by dealers unless agreed to by the originating dealers. Franchisors also may not prohibit a dealer from acquiring a line-make of new vehicles solely because the dealer owns another dealership of the same line-make in a contiguous market.

The penalty for hanging objects in rearview mirrors was reduced with LB500, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook and approved 46-0. The bill changed the penalty for placing objects in a vehicle that interfere with the driver’s view from a Class V misdemeanor to a traffic infraction. The bill also limits the violation to objects that “significantly and materially” obstruct or interfere with the view of a driver.

Violators will be charged one point on their driving records and fined $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $150 for subsequent offenses. The bill also makes enforcement of the law a secondary action.

The Legislature passed legislation that will permit the operation of low-speed vehicles on state roads, beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

LB289, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello and passed 49-0, will authorize the operation of low-speed vehicles with maximum speeds of no more than 25 mph on highways with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. Under the bill, local governments and the state Department of Roads will be able to restrict low-speed vehicle use further for public safety purposes.

Low-speed vehicle operators will be required to have a valid operator’s license and liability insurance coverage. The vehicles will be subject to titling requirements, a registration fee of $15 and a new alternative fuel fee of $75 for vehicles using a source of energy not taxed under the motor fuel laws. The alternative fuel fee will replace the alternative fuel tax.

Owners of low-speed vehicles will be required to obtain license plates. A base fee of $50 for the motor vehicle tax and $10 for the motor vehicle fee associated with low-speed vehicles will be implemented.

Permits authorizing overweight and oversized loads and tows are expanded by LB35, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms and passed 46-0. The bill increases to 210 days the maximum life of a department overweight or overlength permit for hauling loads of grain, sugar beets and other seasonally harvested products.

The bill also includes provisions of LB353, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, regarding towing load restrictions. The bill exempts from standard length and weight limits tows of single vehicles to a place of repair or storage. It also exempts tows of multiple vehicles and permitted oversize vehicles as long as such vehicles are towed to the first and nearest location that can accommodate them. Afterwards, a special single trip permit may be acquired to transport an oversize vehicle.

Towing companies are held severally liable for injuries or damages resulting from the operation of tow trucks while exceeding length, width, height and weight requirements.

Another bill addressing towing was held in committee.

Under LB295, introduced by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, an individual who believes that the fees assessed for towing or storing a vehicle are unreasonable may file a written complaint with the PSC. The commission would notify the person assessing the charges and could hold a hearing on the complaint. The bill also would provide criteria for determining whether towing fees are reasonable.

A bill to exempt motorcyclists at least 21 years old from the state helmet law also was held in committee.
LB52, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, would provide an additional exemption for younger riders. Motorcyclists aged 16 up to 21 who pass a motorcycle safety course and carry proof of course completion would not be required to wear a helmet. Class M operator’s licenses would indicate whether the license holder was required to wear a helmet. Violations of the helmet law would be a secondary offense under the bill.

The bill would require motorcyclists and their passengers to wear eye protection.

Finally, the committee held LR3CA, introduced by Fischer, which would submit to voters during the 2012 general election a constitutional amendment to permit the state to use sales and use tax revenues to finance highway bonds.

Public Service Commission

The Legislature created three new exemptions from PSC motor carrier regulations with the passage of LB112 on a 46-0 vote.

Introduced by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, the bill creates exemptions from PSC regulation for residential care transportation services, supported transportation services and licensed care transportation services. Escort services are renamed under the bill as attended services, and the exemption for such services is extended to motor carriers with a subcontract with the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or any agency organized under the Nebraska Community Aging Services Act.

The bill also requires motor carriers providing licensed care transportation services to meet PSC minimum driver standards, equipment standards and insurance requirements, which must be consistent with HHS requirements for attended services, residential care transportation services and supported transportation services.

A bill that would have eliminated the PSC railroad inspection program fell two votes short of final reading approval. LB255, introduced by the committee, would have deleted language in current law requiring the commission to investigate railroad accidents and enforce federal railroad safety standards.

Licenses and permits

A bill expanding eligibility for online driver’s license renewals was approved by the Legislature 49-0.

LB158, introduced by Fischer, expands the upper age limit from 65 to 72 for online driver’s license renewals and allows persons under 21 who have completed all required examinations to apply for their operator’s licenses electronically using rules prescribed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The bill also prohibits those who fail a driving test for a Class O driver’s license or Class M motorcyclist license three times from retaking the test until they complete a driver’s safety course or hold a learner’s permit for at least 90 days.

LB163, also introduced by Fischer, directs the DMV to establish by Jan. 1, 2013, an electronic system for processing applications for handicapped or disabled parking permits. Renewals for handicapped parking permits may be made within 180 days of their expiration, instead of the previous 30-day limit.

The bill also extends the renewal period for permanent handicapped parking permits from three years to six years and changes a provision of law that prohibits a person from holding more than one permit tag to allow up to two tags. Finally, the bill calls for an additional medical certification if a permit holder requests more than two replacement tags in a six-year period.

Senators passed the bill 49-0.

The committee advanced one bill and held two others that would change the issuance of license plates.

LB216, introduced by Coash and advanced by the committee, would create special interest license plates that would be available to car club members who own motor vehicles that are unaltered from original specifications and are collected, preserved, restored or maintained for leisure. One special interest license plate would be issued to a qualified applicant to be affixed to the rear of a vehicle. The additional fee for a special interest plate would be $50.

The bill remains on general file.

Two other bills introduced this session were held in committee.

LB661, introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, would decrease the additional fee for a specialty license plate from $70 to $50.

LB185, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, would eliminate the front license plate requirement effective Jan. 1, 2012.

Local governments and education

LB589, introduced by Papillion Sen. Jim Smith and passed 45-0, allows a county, city or village temporary use of the state highway system, other than a freeway, that is located within its jurisdiction for special events. Under the bill, the county, city or village will be liable if damages or injuries occur during the event.

A $75 state subsidy for motorcycle education providers is discontinued under LB170, introduced by Fischer. Approved 44-0, the bill will eliminate the Motorcycle Safety Education Fund on Jan. 1, 2012, and allocate 25 percent of its balance to the Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund and 75 percent to the Highway Trust Fund. The fund is currently used to reimburse motorcycle safety course providers up to $75 for each student who successfully completes a course.

The bill also broadens the DMV’s regulatory authority over motorcycle safety courses and reduces from 48 months to 24 months the duration of the driving test waiver granted to those who complete courses.

The committee held a bill that would allow voters to require their county to mow weeds in all drainage districts.

Under LB87, introduced by Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen, a resolution from the county board or a petition would place the issue on the ballot. The bill also would provide a means for revoking a mowing mandate and returning mowing responsibility to landowners.

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