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Some Connecticut lawmakers still home for toll bill




HARTFORD, Conn. — Some Connecticut state lawmakers aren’t giving up on passing legislation before the General Assembly adjourns in less than two weeks that could eventually lead to highway tolls on Connecticut’s highways.

Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said he hopes the House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to come up with a plan for tolling, including discounts for in-state drivers and commuters and possible long-term reductions in the state gas tax.

The Berlin, Connecticut, lawmaker said he’s “no longer afraid” of the political ramifications of supporting tolls, given the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure and a spending account for transportation projects that’s facing insolvency beginning fiscal year 2019.

“If it happens here, at least I can personally walk out of here with a clean conscience saying I have done everything to put the issue right out in center, in front of everybody, and we couldn’t get the votes,” he said.

Even if the bill clears the House, where Democrats hold a slim majority, its fate is doubtful in the Senate, where there are an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn its regular legislative session May 9 and then begin campaigning for re-election in November.

Republican Sen. Toni Boucher, a co-chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, said GOP senators recently discussed the prospect of tolls in a closed-door meeting.

“By the end of it, every single person that I spoke with there just didn’t have any appetite for a toll bill this year,” she said. “Even the Democrats on their side are having a difficult time trying to bring any toll bill out.”

Boucher argues that Connecticut taxpayers have been taxed too much since the state ended tolling in the late 1980s.

She said there “might be room to negotiate” if there was an immediate reduction in the state gasoline tax, among the highest in the nation.

“We see this tolling scheme as another additional tax on a state that has been devastated by too many additional taxes,” Boucher said. “We need to show where they’re going to take another tax off the table so we’re not adding more to the tax burden.”

Electronic tolling is one of the proposals being pushed by the group Move CT Forward, a coalition that includes the construction industry and trade unions.

Move CT Forward has been running a series of TV, radio and online ads warning about the condition of Connecticut’s roads and bridges and the lack of funding in the Special Transportation Fund. The group is also calling a $3 fee for each new tire purchased, a seven-cent increase in the gasoline tax over four years, higher motor vehicle license and other fees, and a new transportation authority to oversee transportation-related revenues. Those are the same actions Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed. Under his plan, tolling would begin in Connecticut in fiscal year 2023.

The governor has warned that $4.3 billion in transportation projects will have to be delayed or canceled if there isn’t new revenue generated for the transportation fund.

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Diesel prices all but stagnant nationwide, less than 2-cent shift anywhere



The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 0.7 cents for the week ending July 22, to currently stand at $3.044 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The lack of movement in diesel prices continues a pattern that has been going on for the past month. On June 24, diesel was at 3.042, with changes of less than 1.5 cents every week in between.

Though tiny, the movement in diesel prices was nearly unanimous this past week, down in all but one region of the country.  That one exception was the Rocky Mountain region, where diesel rose 0.3 cents, to $2.978. Year-to-date, diesel prices are lower in every region, with the Rocky Mountain region again being the standout, having the greatest difference, 39.1 cents from this time last year.

California made it a clean sweep for lower diesel prices year-to-date with a drop of 1.3 cents this past week, to $3.939, still by far the highest in the country, but 0.4 cents below this time last year.

Along the rest of the West Coast, diesel dropped 1.1 cents to $3.198, bringing the overall West Coast average to $3.611 per gallon.

The average along the East Coast is currently $3.072, with prices highest in the Central Atlantic, where diesel is going for $3.259 after a 1.3-cent drop. Diesel is $3.122 in New England following a decrease of 0.9 cents over the past week, while in the Lower Atlantic region diesel slipped by 0.4 cents to stand at $2.937 per gallon.

That’s still slightly better than the Midwest, where diesel is going for $2.948 per gallon after a drop of 0.8 cents. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, the low-price leader in diesel, fell by the same 0.1 cent it gained the week before to stand at $2.804.

On Monday, increasing tensions between Iran and Western countries failed to produce a sharp reaction in the crude oil markets. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 98 cents, or 1.57%, to settle at $63.45 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 59 cents, or 1.06%, to settle at $56.22 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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DOL opinion letter: Time in sleeper berth does not count as compensable time



The Department of Labor says the time a truck driver spends in the sleeper berth is not compensable time. Pictured in the Peterbilt 579 UltraLoft sleeper berth. (Courtesy: PETERBILT MOTORS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday said it had determined that time spent in the sleeper berth by professional truck drivers while otherwise relieved from duty does not count as compensable time.

The DOL issued the determination in a written opinion letter by the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual person or entity that requested the letter.

The American Trucking Associations lauded the opinion.

“ATA welcomes Monday’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question.

Significantly, this opinion letter provides new guidance, the DOL said.

Under prior guidance, the DOL said WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked where “adequate facilities” were furnished, only up to eight hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.

“WHD has now concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable,” the opinion letter said. “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked.”

The ATA commended Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella and Stanton for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.

“ATA also commends the department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” Spear said.



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