(GA Recorder) – The agricultural and forestry trucking industry won a major victory this week in the closing minutes of the 2023 Legislative Session in Georgia with the passage of legislation increasing its cargo-carrying capacity.
The dispute between some members of the House and Senate over House Bill 189 increasing the allowable truckloads on Georgia state and local roads was finally settled by a joint committee of lawmakers. The compromise came just in time for the bill to meet the 40-day deadline when both chambers had to approve the bills. Eventually, attention will turn to finding a long-term solution to the massive funds needed to maintain the same state roads and bridges that deteriorate faster when giant semi-trucks rumble across them.
Under the new rules, trucks hauling food, timber and other agricultural and forestry goods can weigh up to 88,000 pounds. It’s an increase of £4,000 on the state maximum, which was recently reset after a three-year moratorium that allowed lorry drivers to haul some of the state’s key agricultural products up to £95,000 without risk of a fine .
The final version includes a sunset date of July 1, 2025. It also gives local police the power to enforce the law and report trucks that exceed the legal limit. But local authorities can’t use the money from fines to buy truck scales or for road maintenance. Instead, lawmakers require that the money be sent to the state.
The Senate passed the truck weight bill by a 37-16 vote just after midnight Thursday, minutes after a narrower 95-75 vote in the Chamber.
Rep. Teri Anuelwicz, a Democrat from Smyrna, said while the bill allows local police to issue subpoenas for rule-breakers, it also wrongly requires fines to be passed on to the state.
“This is simply toothless legislation designed to encourage a culture of forgiveness rather than permissive when it comes to enforcing these truck weights,” she said as lawmakers cast their ballot.
Greg Dolezal, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said his committee is insisting on an expiration date to ensure the parties involved work together to close the billion-dollar gap needed to repair, rehabilitate and rebuild Georgia’s roads.
The compromise truck weight plan was recommended by a conference committee of six members of the House and Senate who met on Wednesday to settle disagreements between the chambers. The measure also limits the distance that heavier-loaded trucks can travel to within 150 miles of where the trailers are loaded.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, lumberjacks and farmers in Georgia have welcomed Gov. Brian Kemp’s orders for larger loads, which they say have become a lifeline for the companies because they saved significant transportation costs.
The push to allow larger truckloads has met with strong opposition due to the risk of the vehicles tipping over and being harder to brake, putting passenger cars at risk.
Georgia Department of Transportation officials said the original bill, which included commercial vehicles of all kinds, was a reckless plan. The agency estimated that this would double the number of bridges that trucks with excessive loads would not be allowed to cross.