House Bill 161, which would require the Transportation Cabinet to issue permits to coal trucks with extra axles to carry extra weight, could be a can of worms that state Rep. Hubert Collins will not open.

“No, I’m not inclined to do that,” Collins, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said last week. “We’re going pretty good with weights right now and I’m not going to mess with it.”

Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement officers began cracking down on overweight trucks in Eastern Kentucky in 2004. Last year, however, trucking companies discovered that a subsection of a 1986 law allows coal trucks to receive permits to haul an extra 20,000 pounds above existing weight limits for each new axle added under a truck bed.

Some truckers resumed hauling heavier loads and some traditional 22-wheel coal buckets were turned into 28-wheelers, but Transportation officials stopped issuing the permits in August.

The bill, introduced Jan. 3 by two Eastern Kentucky legislators, Reps. W. Keith Hall, D-Pikeville, and Teddy Edmonds, D-Jackson, is an amendment to the state’s unique extended-weight coal-haul law, which already allows coal carriers to haul 46,000 pounds more than other truckers.

Among other things, the amendment apparently would force the Transportation Cabinet to resume issuing permits to haulers with extra axles.

“That’s the way I see it,” said Kevin Pentz of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, whose group has not taken a position on the bill.

As an example, the amendment would allow trucks to legally pull two connected trailers containing up to 180,000 pounds of coal.

That would be 54,000 pounds above the current legal Kentucky weight of 126,000 pounds. The lower figure is already 46,000 pounds more than the federal weight limit for other trucks.

KVE Commissioner Greg Howard, a former Lexington police officer generally credited with initiating the first serious effort in Eastern Kentucky to corral overweight coal trucks, declined to comment about the bill.

Hall said the measure was designed to help a Breathitt County trucker who drives a tandem-trailer truck on Ky. 15, but Collins said it could be used by other haulers to cause problems.

“If you start adding axles, you’d have all sorts of configurations,” said Collins, a Wittensville Democrat.

A description of the proposal on the Legislative Research Commission Web page says it would “require the cabinet to issue multi-axle permits in excess of 120,000 pounds for carriers that meet the axle-weight provisions and meet safety standards.”

Edmonds could not be reached for comment, but Hall said he met with Pentz and fellow Reps. Ancel “Hard Rock” Smith, D-Leburn, and Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, to discuss the bill.

Hall said he would withdraw as a sponsor if the bill poses a deterrent to enforcement of truck weight laws.

“As I understand it, it’s already dead on the vine,” he said.

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