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Steube sponsors bill to remove some trucking regulations

SEBRING — Freshman Congressman Greg Steube (R-District 17) has proposed a relaxing of federal regulations on when and how truckers get their rest.

It’s a matter that has had some debate, and has already been proposed by the Trump administration. However, according to some reports on the matter, truckers would like that flexibility in order to avoid rush hours and find secure locations to park and rest.

For example, NPR told the story of last July about truck driver Carmen Anderson, operator of a burgundy Kenworth tractor, who found herself “stranded” in an industrial area in Shreveport, Louisiana, “on a road flanked on both sides by warehouses and wire fence.”

The spot didn’t have sidewalks, bathrooms or security, still she reportedly spent 17 hours parked there, eight of them locked in the sleeper berth of her truck, based on Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “Hours of Service Regulations” governing how long she can be on the road and how long she must sleep.

The regulations stem from the fact that sleepy truck drivers cause hundreds of fatal crashes each year. NPR reported that the truck-driving industry rewards truckers for miles driven, not time on the clock, so there is an incentive to stretch their abilities to make a living.

Regulations cap driving time at 11 hours a day. Truckers must stop and rest for at least a half hour during that time. In addition, they must stop for the day 14 hours after they started, no matter how much downtime they may have had in that time.

Anderson, for the NPR report, compared it to a kindergarten nap time: Being told when to sleep.

On Jan. 7, Steube introduced the “Freedom from Regulating Edible Supplies and Horticulture Trucking Act” (FRESH Trucking Act). He insists it will improve safety for commercial agricultural drivers by “eliminating harmful regulations” that he said cause “dangerous driving practices” and “spoilage of products” — with particular attention to citrus.

“My district is the largest citrus producing district in the United States,” Steube said when introducing the bill. “These citrus producers, and all the hard-working farmers and growers across my district, rely on commercial agricultural drivers to get their products from point A to point B.”

He blamed current federal regulations for creating dangerous driving situations, as opposed to reducing them, and also alleged that they can lead to expiration of agricultural, horticultural, or floricultural products.

The bill, according to the congressman’s office, would change hours of service and break regulations for commercial agricultural drivers, allowing them to complete a trip even if they are over the maximum on-duty drive time but are still within 150 miles of their destination.

The bill also would have loading and unloading time no longer counted against on-duty time and would give agricultural drivers discretion to use their mandatory 30-minute break how and when they want during their 8-hour shift.

The bill was sent to the U.S.House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but has had no cosponsors, yet.

Also, there is no companion measure yet in the U.S. Senate.

As of July, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was, according to NPR, weighing exceptions for the mandatory half hour rest break, allowing truckers to split up sleep time and easing the standards in other ways.

Driver Michael Whitaker told NPR those tweaks would make it easier to avoid hazards, like having to interact with cars in rush hour traffic.

While car drivers, statistically, cause more wrecks, NPR reported, a 70,000-pound semi-trailer is a lot more lethal, and sleepy truck drivers kill someone almost daily.

“My dad was killed by a tired trucker back in December of 2004,” said Dawn King, president of the Truck Safety Coalition, a volunteer position.

King told NPR that proposed changes for Hours of Service regulations all extend driving time and working limits. She contends the trucking industry has not provided data that relaxed standards would increase safety.

LP Arts and Crafts Country Fair this weekend

LAKE PLACID – The smell of barbecue, popcorn and cotton candy will fill the air this weekend at the 54th annual Lake Placid Arts and Crafts Country Fair. The fair will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at DeVane Park. The fair is free and open to the public.

The fair is the longest running event in the history of the tiny town. Over 130 booths filled with handmade items will dot the lawn of DeVane Park. The booths will have a wide variety from spices, metal art, bird houses, jewelry, handmade clothing hats and pet items. Speaking of pet items, The Humane Society of Highlands County will bring adoptable dogs and cats that need loving homes.

The art competition exhibits will be displayed at Lake Placid Middle School. The adult competitors will exhibit their art in the school’s cafeteria while the students art will be shown in the Commons area.

Volunteers from Tomoka Heights will once again shuttle guests from DeVane Park to Lake Placid Middle School on Saturday and Sunday. Family-friendly entertainment will be provided throughout the weekend.

The art competition has 10 categories to represent different mediums such as China painting, quilting, woodworking and much more. The artwork will be hung on Friday afternoon and judged that night. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, the winners of the adult competition will get their award money and ribbons. Fair-goers can vote for the People’s Choice award on Saturday and the The students will get their ribbons and cash prizes at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Helen Oberchain has been the chairman of the exhibits for about 30 years and plans on retiring after this year. She said there were other chairmen positions that will also need to be filled due to volunteers retiring. Helen also said there about 100 volunteers that pull the event together. The fair board is seeking volunteers call Obenchain at 269-932-8934 or call the Country Fair office and leave a message at 863-465-3963.

AP committee's voting process questioned

AVON PARK — Before the City Council decided with a 3-2 vote to hire Mark Schrader as city manager, a member of the Citizens Selection Committee said the committee’s voting process was flawed in making its recommendations to the council.

Tom Macklin was on the 10-member committee that was formed to review the 36 applications to offer a list of the top five candidates for the City Council to consider.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Macklin called it a “severely flawed process” that did not bare itself out in a fair manner and puts Avon Park in a negative light or possibly worse.

He said at the first meeting of the committee those in attendance unanimously agreed that each member would review all of the applications and resumes and select five with a numerical ranking for tabulation purposes with “number one” being their personal favorite and “number five” being at the bottom of their top five list.

After tabulation, the top five of the committee would be presented to the City Council with no ranking and no particular order, Macklin said.

“That stated, the agreed upon rules were not adhered to and I believe as a result this entire process is circumspect and the recommendation to City Council should be limited to only those ballots that were submitted by the individuals who followed the previously agreed upon rules,” he said.

Six of the 10 ballots did not adhere to the mutually agreed upon criteria, Macklin said. Four included either too few or too many candidate names and should be thrown out as either an under vote or over vote.

Two other ballots should be thrown out despite having five candidates because none of them were ranked.

Macklin continued in detail on what he considered a faulty tabulation process that would have partially changed the committee’s list that went to the City Council.

His ballot was one of the four that followed the agreed upon criteria, Macklin said. “Mark Schrader was not one of my five selections.

“My bringing this to your attention is not an effort to see that he is included or that anyone else is excluded in the recommendation previously provided to council.” Instead, he said, this was an effort on his part to make sure the selection process for the new city manager “is above reproach from end to end.”

Macklin suggested using only the four ballots that were filled out in accordance with the criteria from the first meeting of the citizens committee.

Mayor Garrett Anderson asked Macklin if he thought a re-vote would be appropriate.

Macklin responded that since the names have already been picked and are known, a re-vote would not be appropriate.

Council took no action on the matter.

Macklin suggested that in the future, a committee like this should have a chairman or co-chairs, which could prevent this type of situation.

Nell Hays retires from Crime Prevention

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about the “change of the guard” in the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit, which now has a sworn deputy, Sgt. Kimberly Gunn, taking over for retiring civilian head, Crime Prevention Specialist Nell Hays.

SEBRING — Tuesday marked the last day at Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for Nell Hays, crime prevention specialist. In the last 20 years, she said, she’s seen changes in the task, and at the same time, some things have never changed.

She started Jan. 19, 2000, under Sheriff Howard Godwin. Prior to that, she had worked as a volunteer at the Sheriff’s Office and as a part-time employee. Her task was to get out in the community and talk up ways people could prevent themselves from becoming victims of crime.

It helped, she said, that the sheriffs under which she worked had a proactive attitude to crime prevention, especially Sheriff Susan Benton and now Sheriff Paul Blackman.

“When the sheriff thinks a lot about crime prevention, it works,” Hays said.

Tracking how well it works can be a bit difficult after doing public outreach on a particular type of crime, Hays said.

“The only way you can is if you had stats on a crime and if it went down [afterward],” Hays said. “It really depends on the veracity of the stats.”

Still, some — Hays might say “all” — crime prevention involves a great deal of common sense by the average person.

“Lock your doors. Lock your cars,” Hays said.

It also helps to cover or hide anything in the car that might attract a burglar/thief. Once, Hays said, someone broke into her car — broke the window — to steal her toll-booth change from the central console cup holder.

Scams have stayed very much the same, with a few differences or with only one or two disappearing from common use.

Hays said she hasn’t seen the “pigeon drop” as much as in the past: A scammer tells a potential victim of having a lottery or scratch off ticket worth a high amount — $10,000 or more — which they can’t redeem for some reason. They offer to sell it to the victim for $2,000, and it isn’t until the victim pays and takes the card to redeem it that they learn it’s no good.

Other than than, Hays said, the scams have stayed the same. She recently pulled one of the pamphlets she used in 2006. While one of the new ones involves Social Security checks, most of the scams are still the same.

Sgt. Kimberly Gunn, who will succeed Hays as head of Crime Prevention, said it’s been her perception that some elder residents trust others, especially younger people, more than they should. It may be that when they came up in the world, more people could trust a handshake deal, or that someone who knocked on the door asking for help genuinely needed it.

Even the act of hitchhiking has all but disappeared. Hays said her late husband used to hitchhike up and down U.S. 27 when he needed a ride. Hays also said that starting in the 1960s, warnings began emerging about the dangers of being robbed or assaulted while hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers.

Communities and organizations have long asked for seminars on preventing burglary, theft, embezzlement and/or scams, Hays and Gunn said.

Lately, they said, it’s been active shooter security assessments and preparation.

Prior to the SunTrust shooting last year, Gunn said, people used to say, “It will never happen here.” It turned out to be “not if, but when,” Gunn said. he always feared it would be a school, and was thankful it wasn’t.

Requests have spiked on the type of seminar, Gunn said: So much so that her calendar has already filled up.

As the county has grown, so has the demand not only for those types of seminars, but all types, Hays said.

Hays used to print out pamphlets on the types of seminars available, but these days it’s easier to tailor a seminar to each group’s or business’ situation.

Plus it’s easier than listing them. At last count, Hays had 20 to 30 different types of seminars available, with room on the shelf for plenty more.

It may not be easy for one person to get to every request in a week, but no less needed and useful. Hays and Gunn said no one really knows what crimes were prevented by someone taking advice and using it, because no crime occurred.

But that’s the point, and one they want to see realized.