Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Hill: House panel backs transportation bill with trucking provisions

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A House panel easily approved a transportation and housing spending bill containing language that would affect meal and rest breaks for commercial truck drivers.
The Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development advanced the draft legislation to the full committee by voice vote on Wednesday.

Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) urged members to hold off on amendments until the full panel markup.

The fiscal 2017 spending bill would provide $58.2 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other related agencies.

The total figure is $889 million more than the current funding level and is $1.7 billion more than the Senate’s version of the transportation spending bill, which is currently being considered on the Senate floor.

The base bill contains $19.2 billion for the DOT, which is $540 million above the current level, and $16.3 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is $69 million more than the current level.

The Federal-Aid Highway Program would get $44 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, which is consistent with last year’s surface transportation bill that was signed into law.

“We’re delighted with the allocation you’ve gotten at this point in the process,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), ranking Democrat on the full committee. “The majority’s inability to adopt a budget started the entire process on the wrong foot. I only hope it doesn’t foreshadow future breakdowns.”

Both the Senate and House spending bills contain a technical fix to a drafting error made in last year's government spending bill regarding trucker rest breaks, though the measures differ slightly in how they do so.
A provision in the 2016 omnibus said the administration’s proposed tweaks to the hours of service rule for truck drivers — changes that were briefly enacted in 2013 but later suspended — cannot be implemented until the DOT proves the regulation would improve driver health and safety.

But legislators left out essential language clarifying what would happen if the agency fails to find that the rule is beneficial for drivers, which would force the DOT to revert to old rules put in place more than a decade ago.
The House bill clarifies that regulations in place before the proposed changes in 2011 would apply to commercial truck drivers in that case.
Those rules that were in place allow a 34-hour “restart” period, which is an amount of off-duty time that drivers can take in order to reset their driving limit after they reach the maximum 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. But some safety advocates have said the rules were enabling some drivers to work up to 82 hours per week.

That's why the administration has been trying to require in its proposed rule that every restart period to include two nights in that break and only allowing one restart per week, effectively limiting truck drivers to 70 hours a week.

The Senate bill also fixes the drafting error, but caps the time truck drivers can spend behind the wheel or on duty at 73 hours per week. Safety groups have slammed the provision because they say it would encourage drivers to work longer weeks.

The House measure contains another trucking provision that would preempt state laws on commercial trucking meal and rest breaks, which Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has said would be a “poison pill” because it diminishes states’ abilities to maintain protections for truck drivers.

Boxer defeated an attempt to include the provision in last year’s five-year surface transportation legislation, but similar language was tucked into the House’s long-term reauthorization of the FAA.

Supporters of the preemption language say it’s necessary to ensure uniform regulations for the industry.


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