House passes DOT funding bill

June 11, 2014
The focus shifts to the Senate as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) appropriations bill (H.R. 4745) on a mostly partisan vote of 229 to 192. The bill’s consideration saw numerous partisan votes on amendments, but none were closer or more partisan than the 214 to 212 vote approving the amendment sponsored by Rep.

The focus shifts to the Senate as the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) appropriations bill (H.R. 4745) on a mostly partisan vote of 229 to 192.

The bill’s consideration saw numerous partisan votes on amendments, but none were closer or more partisan than the 214-to-212 vote approving the amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) to block an increase in the minimum liability insurance for motor carriers.

That measure will have no legal effect unless and until it is adopted by Congress and signed into law and would not in any event kick in until at least Oct. 1, which is the beginning of fiscal 2015.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is free in the interim to continue working on a rulemaking to raise insurance minimums.

The Daines amendment proved to be the lone controversial change directly related to trucking considered by the House even though the Obama administration had opposed bill language allowing larger trucks to operate on federal highways in Mississippi, Wisconsin and Idaho.

The White House argued that any changes to the truck size and weight rules should be addressed comprehensively once the Federal Highway Administration completes its ongoing truck size and weight study.

Ultimately, there was no amendment on size and weight – either to liberalize the existing limits or delete the bill’s expansion for three states – or on changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) 34-hour restart.

The Teamsters union had sent a letter to House members asking them to oppose potential amendments allowing 33-ft. double trailers or delaying or revising last year’s changes to the HOS restart.

The House bill does not address the restart provisions, although the Appropriation Committee’s report on the bill directed FMCSA to submit a report that catalogues the scientific evidence supporting the safety benefits of the regulation limiting drivers to one restart in a 168-hour period.

The report also should assess the effects on safety and traffic and other unintended consequences of the restart provision, the committee said. The House Appropriations Committee report also calls on FMCSA to adopt the General Accounting Office’s recommendations for changes to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. Committee report language basically is a statement of policy and does not carry the force of law.

It’s unclear when the Senate will take up its version of the DOT appropriations bill (S. 2438). One of the sticking points surely will be the Appropriations Committee’s approval of the amendment sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to suspend last year’s HOS restart changes for fiscal 2015 pending completion of a study of the safety effects of those changes.

The Democratic leadership of the committee opposed the Collins amendment, but there were enough Democrats supporting it just in the committee to pass the Senate in an up-or-down vote assuming all Senate Republicans back the measure. Even so, the power to control the Senate calendar gives Democratic leaders some leverage to forge a compromise if they want to do so.

In addition to the suspension of the restart changes, the Senate bill sets deadlines for FMCSA to propose a rule on safety fitness determinations based on CSA and to adopt a final rule on electronic logging devices.

The committee report states that the safety fitness determination proposal would be required by the end of December 2014, although due to an apparent typographical error the actual bill language says Dec. 31, 2013. The final ELD rule would be required by Jan. 30, 2015.

FMCSA also would have to submit a report to Congress by March 27, 2015, on its ability to meet its requirement to conduct compliance reviews on mandatory carriers. The committee report uses as an example the situation with DND International, which FMCSA had flagged for intervention in the summer of 2013 but didn’t review until after a fatal crash in January.

About the Author

Avery Vise | Contributing editor

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