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Kubly finally wins approval of tractor-hour meter proposal

Whether you call it perseverance or stubbornness, Sen. Gary Kubly said it's the characteristic he needed to finally get a bill passed that now makes it illegal for the clock-hour meters on tractors to be tampered with or disconnected.

The bill was signed this week by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, said he worked on the bill "the seven of the 10 years I've been here" and was glad it made the final hurdle this year.

Farm tractors and equipment such as self-propelled combines and swathers have meters to clock the hours operated. Like an odometer, a clock-hour meter can be used as a gauge for how much of an implement's life has been used. It's important information when tractors are bought and sold.

A law prevents tampering with odometers. But until now, there's been no law prohibiting tampering with clock-hour meters.

Kubly became aware of problems when a farmer in his district said he'd been misled about the usage of a machine because the clock hours weren't accurate.

Kubly said the law will give farmers "recourse if they buy an implement that was used and has more hours than shows up."

Granted, he said, the recourse would have to be resolved in court, but Kubly said having the law as a deterrent is the best aspect of the bill.

Kubly said it's not a "widespread" practice for implement dealers to tamper with clock-hour meters, but he's received enough calls over the years to know it is a problem.

With this law, the shoe is also meant to fit the other foot if an implement dealer is the victim.

Kubly said one implement dealer told him of his suspicions that a farmer who was leasing equipment was disconnecting the meter to avoid paying for the hours he used.

To test his theory, the dealer installed two clock-hour meters on the tractor. When the tractor was returned, the official meter was 30 hours less than the second, hidden meter, said Kubly, which would be a violation under the new law.

He said there are some "gaps" in the new law, including a provision that allows replacement of a broken meter with a new one. The new clock will have zero hours on, it said, and thus will not be a true representation of the tractor's use.

There is no penalty for farmers who have a tractor with a broken clock-hour meter.

But if they sell or trade that tractor without telling the buyer the meter is broken, they will have broken the law.

Kubly said he thought the need for the bill was a "pretty simple idea" but said the years of debate in committees and the House and Senate proved it was an issue that required a "long educational process."

Despite opposition from lobbyists for implement dealers who didn't think the bill was necessary, it progressed out of committee a couple years ago after the chairman of the House ag committee at the time became a victim of tractor clock-hour meter tampering, said Kubly.

In past floor discussions, he said the questions were directed to him regarding the necessity of the bill.

This year the questions were directed at the implement dealers, he said.

"It was a very different focus this year."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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