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Price gouging to be addressed in Maryland

Upset at the rise in fuel prices in Maryland since Hurricane Katrina, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran is calling for a price gouging law in the state.

Curran told state lawmakers this past week he wants more power to go after businesses that try to profit from emergency situations.

He said he plans to review the existing price gouging laws in more than 20 states and pen legislation to submit to the Maryland General Assembly when it convenes in January.

Curran pointed out that officials in Florida and Tennessee have filed lawsuits alleging price gouging since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and are seeing lower pump prices as a result, The Associated Press reported.

Curran said he has also been told by attorneys general in other states that they believe the deterrent of a price gouging law helps to keep prices down.

Maryland lawmakers considered several similar bills this spring with none making it out of committee, but legislators said they think current fuel costs will give the effort more momentum.

"It's a major problem," Delegate James Malone, D-Arbutus, told the Catonsville Times. "We're going to have to take a serious look at this and do whatever we can."

In the meantime, lawmakers said they have few ideas for immediate relief for consumers.

Connecticut company's trucks ordered off road

Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell has ordered the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to put all trucks from American Crushing and Recycling off the road.

A truck from the Bloomberg-based company was blamed for a fatal wreck on Avon Mountain in July that left four people dead and 20 vehicles totaled.

Another truck from the company was pulled over on Sept. 16 because of safety violations and because it was 18,000 pounds overweight, according to the Hartford Courant.

Delbert Cornell, chief of the state DMV's commercial vehicle safety division, suspended the company's 10 trucks Tuesday, Sept. 21. Five of the trucks were immediately put out of service for numerous violations, including brake defects, steering problems and flat tires, the Courant reported.

The DMV has inspected the company's trucks several times since the July crash and has found numerous problems.

This is not the first time American Crushing has been in trouble. The company is a successor to Wilcox Trucking, and was formed after Wilcox had similar problems with the DMV.

The governor said because of fears that the owners may attempt to reform the company yet again under another name, the vehicle identification numbers of the trucks have been flagged in the state's DMV database to prevent re-registration. The DMV will also continue to monitor the owners to watch for any attempts to circumvent the registration ban.

Proposal would extend license renewals in Florida

Florida truckers and other drivers might get to wait a little longer before renewing their licenses under a proposal being considered by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The agency is floating the idea of extending the valid period of all classes of driver's licenses to eight years instead of the current four- or six-year intervals now used, The Miami Herald reported.

The extended interval is intended to reduce long lines at DMV offices and to offset the expected pain of anticipated increases in driver-license fees.

According to the newspaper, no new fees have been set.

Applicants who renew by mail, telephone or online would get a discount compared to those who apply at a DMV office.

Drivers would also be allowed to obtain a replacement license or ID card free of charge when changing addresses.

The proposal will be discussed at a Thursday, Sept. 22, meeting of the Cabinet as part of the agency's requests for the state's legislative session that kicks off in March 2006.

Wisconsin considers distracted driving measure

A bill in the Wisconsin Assembly would clearly forbid drivers from watching television while behind the wheel.

Current state law already prohibits drivers from watching any device that receives a television broadcast if it's located in front of the back of the driver's seat or is visible to the driver - regardless of whether the device interferes with safe driving.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gary Bies, R-Sister Bay, would amend the law to prohibit drivers from watching any device capable of displaying a live or recorded television, cable or satellite broadcasts, DVDs or video games that is located within the driver's view.

The restriction wouldn't apply to dashboard readouts or other displays of information about a vehicle's operation or conduct.

Drivers found in violation of the rule could be fined as much as $400.

AB567 is in the Assembly Committee on Highway Safety.

Completion date for Big Dig moved back

Completion of the major portions of Boston's Big Dig project was scheduled for Sept. 22, but like the water coming from the countless leaks in the tunnels, that date fell through.

Now, officials are saying the main part of the project will be complete by Oct. 31, though all roadwork connected with the project won't be finished until May 31, 2006.

The Boston Globe reported that, while Interstate 93 and Interstate 90 tunnels and most entrances and exits are open, there are still about a dozen ramps and road segments that are not finished.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority told The Globe that the change in dates would not affect motorists or the overall price tag of the project.

Ongoing work below ground is preventing crews from finishing the pavement work on the streets above, which won't be finished until spring.

Officials also said that overnight work to patch hundreds of leaks in the tunnels will continue at least through January.
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