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Mississippi lawmakers create lottery to fund highways

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers created a lottery to fund highways, increased state transportation aid for cities and counties, and divided $700 million in oil spill damages during a five-day special session that wrapped up Wednesday.

The Legislature concluded the session with a 99-10 House vote in favor of Senate Bill 2002 , which sends 70 percent of economic damages being paid by BP PLC to Mississippi’s six southernmost counties. The measure also includes more than $100 million in earmarked projects for local areas.

Lawmakers earlier agreed to send 35 percent of the tax on internet sales to cities and counties for infrastructure, with Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signing that bill moments after lawmakers adjourned. They also agreed to create a lottery that will direct up to $80 million a year to the state Department of Transportation.

“Any one of those pieces of legislation would have been historic. Any one of those would have been monumental in helping move this great state forward,” Bryant said Wednesday as Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined him in the Capitol rotunda.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, declared: “The winners today are the citizens of the state of Mississippi.”

Bryant called the session last week as he declared the problems plaguing the state’s transportation infrastructure a crisis. He has been forced to close hundreds of county bridges.

Legislative leaders predict the bills passed during the session will inject more than $200 million a year into transportation on an ongoing basis. They also agreed to borrow $300 million, with $250 million going to an emergency bridge fund, which could help reopen some of the 435 local bridges closed as of Wednesday. However, the state Department of Transportation has said it needs another $400 million a year to keep the highway system from deteriorating, and the session’s action will only provide a fraction of that money.

“We passed three critically important bills,” Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, told senators as they adjourned.

On one of those, the tax diversion, Reeves largely agreed with a position that Gunn staked out during the regular session months ago. The lottery bill was pushed most heavily by Bryant, although lawmakers amended the original proposal after complaints that the proposed Mississippi Lottery Corp. would be overly secretive and powerful.

The House debate on the oil spill money was the final act of the session. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, a Republican from Columbus, announced leaders would turn back all amendments, a position they maintained despite efforts to divide the money among all counties based on population, or provide some money for the 19 counties that didn’t get any of the 128 special projects that made up most the bill.

Lawmakers have already spent $52.4 million of the $750 million BP is paying to make up for lost tax revenue from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of that money has been spent on coastal projects.

With about $100 million in the bank, legislators agreed to take another $60 million for earmarked projects in Senate Bill 2002, combining it with a $50 million pot from the borrowing they approved earlier. The six southernmost counties are in line to get 70 percent of the overall settlement, including about $27 million of what’s in the bank, plus $30 million from 15 yearly payments of $40 million, beginning in 2019.

The Mississippi Development Authority, advised by people appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, will recommend grants from the coast money for lawmakers to approve each year. Lawmakers themselves will decide how to spend the remaining $10 million a year.

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Mexican officials uncover smuggling ring using truck disguised as freight companies

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Some trucks used in the smuggling ring had air conditioning units, but didn't use them when carrying migrants. (FOTOSEARCH)

MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials said Monday they have uncovered an industrial-scale migrant smuggling ring using tractor-trailer rigs disguised as freight deliveries for major companies.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said authorities found a tractor-trailer disguised with the logo of a major grocery store chain. But instead of groceries, it was carrying about 150 migrants.

‘The (grocery) company has filed a complaint, because it was fake, it was camouflage to transport migrants,” Lopez Obrador said.

In June, Mexico detected five freight trucks carrying 925 migrants, almost all from Central America. Some of those trucks bore the logos of well-known firms, though it was not clear if those trucks were also fakes or had been used illegally by drivers without the companies’ knowledge.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said that four or five of the freight trucks found in June belonged to the same independent trucking company, based in central Mexico.

Ebrard said the company operated trucks equipped with air conditioning units, but didn’t turn on the ventilation when carrying migrants.

That led officials to believe it was just a matter of time before migrants would die aboard the overcrowded vehicles.

“The biggest concern is that there is going to be a tragedy, that is what we don’t want,” said Lopez Obrador.

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3 Estes Express employees steal $23,000 worth of water heaters

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland County Sheriff’s Department says they have arrested three employees of a delivery company, after discovering $23,000 worth of stolen inventory in one of their homes.

Officials became suspicious when some retail stores reported that not all of the products supposedly being shipped from Home Depot’s West Columbia distribution center were reaching their final destination.

An investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and officials from Home Depot and Estes Express Line led authorities to get a search warrant for the home of Cody Bessinger. That is when they found more than $23,000 worth of stolen water heaters that Bessinger and two other thieves reportedly accumulated over one years time.

Authorities arrested Bessinger, along with Joe Gunter and Chris Shumpert, who were both managerial employees for Estes Express Line.

This begs the question…”why water heaters”?

Could it be that besides working for Estes Express Line, these guys had a clandestine plumbing operation on the side?

You might even say these three men are in hot water.

 

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FMCSA seeks comments on definitions of agri, livestock commodities in HOS rules

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The FMCSA has received several requests recently from agricultural and livestock haulers seeking exemption from certain aspects of the Hours of Service rule. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)  

WASHINGTON – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Monday said it is seeking public comment on revising agricultural commodity or livestock definitions in Hours of Service regulations.

The agency said it worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on this effort to provide clarity for the nation’s farmers and commercial drivers.

The FMCSA has received several requests recently from agricultural and livestock haulers seeking exemption from certain aspects of the HOS rule.

“The agriculture industry is vital to our nation and we look forward to receiving input that will help clarify these definitions, improve safety and offer additional flexibility to farmers and commercial drivers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

“The current regulations impose restrictions upon the agriculture industry that lack flexibility necessary for the unique realities of hauling agriculture commodities,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Chao on revising these regulations.”

Currently, during harvesting and planting seasons as determined by each state, drivers transporting agricultural commodities, including livestock, are exempt from the HOS requirements from the source of the commodities to a location within a 150-air-mile radius from the source.

The advanced rule (ANPRM) authored by FMCSA was prompted by indications that the current definition of these terms may not be understood or enforced consistently when determining whether the HOS exemption applies.

“FMCSA has worked closely with the agriculture industry and USDA in crafting this advanced notice. We have heard concerns from the industry, and we are acting,” said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez.  “We encourage all CMV stakeholders, especially those involved in transporting agricultural commodities and livestock, to provide valuable feedback on how the current definitions impact safety, compliance, and enforcement.”

FMCSA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate confusion and align the agencies’ agricultural commodity definitions.

The American agriculture industry contributes more than $1 trillion annually to the nation’s economy.

The FMCSA said in a news release that the Trump administration has been working to strengthen the agriculture industry by streamlining regulations, bolstering farm programs, and renegotiating the outdated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to improve access to Canadian and Mexican markets.

Additional information on the ANPRM, including how to submit comments to the Federal Register docket, is available at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-service/hours-service-drivers-definition-agricultural-commodity.

In June 2018, FMCSA announced regulatory guidance for transportation of agricultural commodities. Learn more at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/regulatory-guidance-concerning-transportation-agricultural-commodities.

 

 

 

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