April 29, 2016
Both chambers of Congress are expected to begin work soon on federal appropriations bills for the 2017 fiscal year, and lawmakers will likely, as in recent years, use their 2017 DOT funding bills as vehicles to implement hours of service changes or other trucking industry-related policy reforms.
Two key trucking items likely to see action in the appropriations process include a fix to the hours of service legislative screw-up from Congress’ 2016 DOT appropriations law and the revival of the so-called “federal authority” provisions floated in recent transportation-related bills.
The hours of service-related measures will likely center on ensuring that the 34-hour restart will still be an option for truck drivers even after the results of a federal study are complete. In its December 2015-passed law appropriating funds for the U.S. DOT, Congress included language that would, depending on the results of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study, remove the 34-hour restart from the hours of service code entirely
The “federal authority” provisions would prevent states from instituting any state-level driver pay reforms and barring states from requiring carriers to give truck drivers paid meal and rest breaks.
Some lobbying groups are already on the defensive about both the HOS measure and the federal authority measure, with one coalition asking lawmakers to forgo any hours of service reforms, including even fixing the issue that could kill the 34-hour restart.
In an April 18 letter, the Teamsters Union, along with the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, Parents Against Tired Truckers and about a dozen others, have asked Congress to not include any hours of service-related policy riders. The groups say they prefer no restart option at all over a 34-hour restart that isn’t required to have two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods — a requirement enacted in July 2013 but then subsequently removed in late 2014 by Congress. The letter does say, however, that of all the options, the groups prefer having a 34-hour restart in place, limited to use once per week and required to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods.
Likewise, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has issued a letter to colleagues saying she and others intend to fight the federal authority measures.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has signaled its opposition to the federal authority language in recent months, too. The American Trucking Associations, however, has been a strong proponent of the provision, calling it necessary to preventing a “patchwork” of state-to-state regulations that could be confusing for fleets and truckers alike.
Both associations, however, have said little about what they want or how they intend to proceed following the 34-hour restart “glitch.”
No appropriations bills or language therein have been made available yet, so it’s not clear what will be included. An amendment process would also open the door to trucking-related policy riders. Work is expected to begin this week on the appropriations process.