Truck legislation needs clarification regarding trailer registrations

Editors Note: Don’t get excited people. This has nothing to do with hammering a Mexican trucker or company unless they are taking advantage of one time fee states to register their trailers as so many American companies do. This is simply a need to clarify a law that is unclear.

Enforcement of a piece of legislation stirring concern among trucking companies is expected to be delayed until the 2009 Texas Legislative session after interpretation of the new law revealed an unwanted outcome.If enforced as the Department of Public Safety interprets House Bill 313, authored by Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, all exemptions allowed to foreign commercial trailers registered in another state would be eliminated.

A number of issues surfaced with the bill’s interpretation and several border legislators are working to keep it from being enforced until the language can be fixed.

Pickett and others said it is likely the bill will soon go to the attorney general for an opinion.

“DPS tells me this has been the normal procedure and once we do this they will suspend any violations or enforcement until there is a clarification,” Pickett said.

Pickett said the intent of the bill was not how DPS interpreted it; rather the goal was to rid of the problem with “phantom trucks” that are not registered anywhere or have found a loophole, violating “the spirit of NAFTA” and leaving Texas without the registration money.

“Oklahoma and Maine will sell a trailer license plate tags and that entity (trucking business purchasing the tags) may be based in Texas so it becomes one of those phantom trailers that’s not paying registration anywhere,” Pickett said.

Pickett said he is not targeting companies that have a factory or business in the U.S., regardless of the state, and a location in Mexico as well. But because of DPS’s interpretation of the new law, Pickett said, when those companies travel into Mexico with a trailer registered in the U.S. and then try to come back with the same trailer, they will be reprimanded.

“They’re reading the most literal interpretation and I don’t believe that’s the case,” Pickett said about how DPS was planning to enforce it. “If a truck has an apportioned registration, they drive all over the country. I’m not targeting those.

“We need to find a way to make sure that all the trailers being used on our roadways are either registered somewhere else and we get an apportioned fee or they’re licensed in Texas and we get the fee,” Pickett said.

Because of reciprocity agreements between states, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-lower Rio Grande Valley, and his office believe HB 313 could be a violation of the Constitution.

While the intent behind the bill was good, said Paul Cowen, Lucio’s chief of staff, it was never looked over in detail by anyone during the last session. Instead it quickly passed the House and Senate because the bill was tagged a local bill, Cowen said.

“They were trying to fix a problem they have locally and it impacted the whole border,” Cowen said. “We didn’t scrub the bill enough. You’re messing around with a foreign commercial zone that’s from El Paso to Brownsville where you have 80 percent of the NAFTA traffic. You’ve got to scrub a bill like that.”

Rep. Richard Raymond, who is also working to clarify language in the bill, said as HB 313 was written, it inadvertently caused a negative impact on trucking companies that are complying with purchasing registration tags for trailers. Raymond said he too has talked to DPS and the important point is that it will not yet be enforced because of the confusion.

Tom Wade of the Logistics and Manufacturing Association in Laredo said his company and others based outside of Texas would be negatively impacted. When Mexican carriers driving for his operation try to cross back into the United States with his company’s trailer, which bears an out-of-state tag, DPS would interpret ownership of the trailer as the Mexican carrier’s, thus fining him or her for not having Texas or Mexico tags, Wade said.

To clear up the issue Wade suggested very specific language to ensure there are not questions when the law is actually enforced.

Until the issue is resolved, the legislators said truckers need not worry, as the law will not be enforced yet. Cowen said an attorney general’s opinion could take about six months, during which time DPS has said it will not enforce the bill.

A moratorium could also be implemented to protect trucking companies abiding by the law from being negatively impacted, Wade said.

Pickett and other border legislators all said the bill will go before the 2009 Texas Legislature to clear any problems.

“I’m going to defend you, the good trucking companies,” Pickett said. “The bad ones, I’m going to collect on you.”

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