Thursday, September 16, 2010

Part 4: Know your governors

The primary season draws to a close this week as states across the nation are finalizing their fall ballots. In the weeks ahead candidates will be ramping up their messages to likely voters in their pursuit of Election Day validation.

In the lead-up to Nov. 2 it is worthwhile to take a look back at some noteworthy actions taken by governors who are once again vying for the spot atop their state government’s totem pole.

Candidates in 15 states are vying to keep their grip on the governor’s chair, and four candidates are trying to reclaim their spot after once holding office.

In recent weeks I’ve revisited the actions of candidates in Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas. You can read about them here. Today I’ll take you for a walk down electoral memory lane to brush up on two more governors running for reelection. The candidates are Jim Gibbons in Nevada and Dave Heineman in Nebraska.

Nevada Gov. Gibbons has signed numerous bills into law that are significant to truckers. Among them is a 2007 law that relies on borrowing to get roadwork complete. The law adds $1 billion in bonds for improvements to I-15 and U.S. 95 in the Las Vegas area and I-80 near Reno. The money is being routed from the diversion of rental car and property taxes, as well as hotel room taxes in Las Vegas.

In 2009, Gibbons ramped up truck enforcement. The law enables people officers and inspectors of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Public Safety to stop commercial vehicles in Washoe and Clark counties to check size and weight.

During the same legislative session, lawmakers got the final say on a tax bill when they voted to override a Gibbons veto. The governor sought to prevent Washoe County from enacting a voter-approved fuel tax increase to pay for roadwork. He voiced concern that voters might not have understood they were supporting a tax hike.

In Nebraska, Dave Heineman is looking for another term in office. Among the notable bills signed into law during his first term is a 2007 law that allows all vehicle operators to travel faster along stretches of two Omaha-area roadways – U.S. 275 and Route 75.

Vehicles were given the go-ahead to travel 65 mph along the two four-lane highways, which is 5 mph faster than they could before.

A year earlier Heineman authorized funds to local governments for new road construction and maintenance.

Since then, all sales and use tax collected on motor vehicle, trailer and semi-trailer sales have gone to the state’s highway fund. The half-cent in the 5.5-cent sales tax that previously was diverted to the state’s general fund is now used for local road projects.

In 2008, Heineman turned back a bill to allow the state’s fuel tax to increase by about 1.2 cents per gallon. The Legislature, however, voted to override the governor in an effort to raise nearly $15 million a year for the Department of Roads.

The extra revenue was touted to cover the agency’s rising salaries and health insurance costs without dipping into construction funds.

Heineman approved a separate bill to get tough with those in the trucking industry who don’t heed their out-of-service orders. The penalties for violations were beefed up to meet federal standards.

Also in 2008, Heineman inked the so-called “super speeders” law. The $300 fine and four-point deduction is applied to anyone caught speeding by more than 35 mph on roadways – including interstates and residential areas.

In the coming weeks be on the lookout for more blogs about governors on fall ballots and their actions on truck-related issues.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CA legislator: Can you hear me now?

One California Air Resources Board critic may have gotten some job protection – albeit temporary – from several state assembly members.

California state Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, and 20 other Republican lawmakers signed on to a letter to UCLA’s chancellor, asking Gene Block to “assure proper procedures have been followed by UCLA regarding the dismissal of Dr. Enstrom.”

As Land Line has reported, James Enstrom is battling to keep his job at UCLA, and the professor believes his public questioning of science behind CARB’s most expensive diesel rule has made him an enemy.

Enstrom believes he’s been in the crosshairs of many movers and shakers including Mary Nichols, CARB’s chairman and a veteran air quality regular.

Nichols, who worked in the EPA during the Clinton administration, is a former UCLA faculty member.

The university has allowed Enstrom to remain on the job until March, or until the appeal process runs its course.

“If Dr. Enstrom is dismissed before his appeal has been fully evaluated, we plan to promptly hold a hearing in Sacramento on this matter,” the letter said.

The battle over Enstrom’s job may prove important to truckers and, like Logue, we’ll be watching.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dodge downtime: Get a flu shot

You’ve probably heard the joke about the guy stranded on his roof by a flood who prays for God to rescue him. A fellow in a rowboat comes along, but the man sends him away, saying, “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” He rows off, and later a speedboat comes by. The man on the roof again refuses, with the same words. Finally, a Coast Guard chopper flies over and gets ready to hoist him up. Still he refuses. The water keeps rising and he drowns.

When he gets to heaven, he says, “Lord, I prayed for you to save me, but you didn’t. Why?” God gives him a puzzled look, and replies, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter; what more did you expect?”

I get that frustrated feeling when people tell me “I don't believe in flu shots, because I don't think they work,” or the other favorite, “I ain’t getting no flu shot cause it might give me the flu like it did my fourth cousin.” What do you need, an engraved invitation?

Flu can knock you off the road for a week or maybe more, and leave you feeling like something swept out of a trailer for weeks after that. The trucking lifestyle – lack of rest, odd hours, exposure to a wide variety of people, and even the challenge of finding a place to wash your hands – can make you more vulnerable to the virus. And if you get it and keep traveling, chances are you’re helping to spread it.

I’ve been taking flu shots for about 40 years, ever since I was 19 and didn’t get a shot. I spent a week on my back in the hospital running a fever of 103. (It was a teaching hospital and the nurses were young and cute, but I was too sick to care – which, at 18, means I was rapping on that famous door).

In all those years, only once did I come down with something resembling the flu, and that was at the tail-end of the season when the protection was wearing off. So I believe the scientists when they say it works.

As for giving you the flu, the injected flu vaccine is made from a killed virus, and the nasal flu vaccine (nasal spray) is made from a weakened live virus. Although the nasal spray is made from a live virus, it CANNOT give a healthy person the flu. You can have a side effect, but you can't get the flu. Click here for more information from the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC thinks this may be a rough flu season, and the white-coat wonks are urging everyone to get a shot, unless they are allergic to eggs (the virus is cultivated in eggs, hopefully not the ones that had salmonella) or otherwise medically unable to take the vaccine.

This year’s vaccine is a three-in-one combo, offering protection against the anticipated seasonal flu viruses and also the latest model of the H1N1 virus.

The good news is that it’s easier to get a flu shot than to find a parking spot at a truck stop. Many supermarket chains offer them at their pharmacies. Drug store chains Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid and CVS have just announced they will give free flu shots to people without health insurance.

If you’re over 65 or if you have health issues like heart or lung disease, diabetes, sickle cell, alcoholism or other conditions, or if you smoke or have asthma, look into getting a pneumonia shot.

Flu can develop into pneumonia, which is often the cause of flu deaths. That’s what killed a lot of the people who died in the flu epidemics of WWI.

Regardless of whether you get a flu shot, the best way to avoid getting or spreading it is to wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, try to eat a healthy diet, drink fluids, avoid crowds and get enough sleep. (Note: Most hand sanitizers are more effective on bacteria than on viruses. Washing with soap and water is generally considered your best front line of defense.)

If you do catch the flu, or have flu-like symptoms, stay put if you can, and see a doctor. Again, the big drug chains have walk-in clinics that can help.

For more about the upcoming flu season, click here.