By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill that could prevent some farmers from being fined for operating commodity transports that slightly exceed highway weight limits is making its way through the Idaho Legislature.
The bill would allow vehicles owned and operated by a farmer or their designated agent to be operated on a highway up to 2,000 pounds in excess of any of Idaho's gross, axle or bridge weight limits. It doesn't apply to federal interstates.
"Loading farm commodities is not an exact science. This bill would give farmers a little bit of (leeway) when they're doing that," said Sen. Jim Guthrie, the bill's author and a Republican rancher and farmer from McCammon.
Bridge weight is a weight-to-length ratio that determines the maximum allowable weight that any set of axles can carry on a highway system. Two or more consecutive axles may not exceed the bridge weight even if single axles, tandem axles and gross vehicle weights are within legal limits.
Bulk loads tend to shift during transport, which can make guesstimating axle and bridge weights a challenge, Guthrie said.
When farmers load farm commodities in rural Idaho, they typically don't have scales and must use air gauges or best-guess estimates to determine the weight of their vehicle.
"They will try to load by how high the grain's getting in the hopper or by air gauges," Guthrie said. "But you can have it be loaded at the same level and have it be totally different on the weight."
Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones said the bill addresses a common situation for growers.
"These guys are trying to do the best they can to make sure they're in compliance with weight limits," he said. "This is a great way to help them deal with that margin of error. It's a common-sense thing and practical."
The bill also allows a farmer facing two violations for exceeding two different weight limits to pick the one with the lesser penalty.
Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Jeff Stratten said farmers do a good job of loading their trucks within legal limits but on occasion misjudge the water weight of the commodity or the dirt weight.
"This legislation allows for the occasional miscalculation," he said.
The bill passed the House 65-1 March 25, but the 2013 legislative session is quickly winding down and leaders in the Senate and House have said they want it to be wrapped up by the end of March.
Guthrie said he thinks there is still time to get it passed this year.
"It's going to be tight, but I'm optimistic," he said.