The committee cleared the bill 13 to 11 on a party-line vote, not because the Republican minority opposes the safety provisions, but because the measure includes an amendment concerning freight planning that the minority does not like.
The safety provisions include a mandate for comprehensive electronic onboard recorders and a requirement that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration establish a clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results.
The bill also would require FMCSA to establish a written proficiency exam for new entrants into trucking, and an employer notification system for driving violations. And it calls for research into the possibility of crash worthiness standards.
The contention arose over a provision to create a national freight policy and infrastructure grant program.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, complained that this measure was added at the last moment and said it is flawed because it creates "a new, unfunded discretionary grant program."
She cited concern by American Trucking Associations that without a named funding source or amount, the program might wind up taking money out of the Highway Trust Fund. ATA, in a letter to the committee, said that a multi-modal program should be paid for out of general funds rather than the highway fund.
Hutchison offered an amendment to strike this provision from the bill, but the amendment failed on a 13-11 party-line vote.
Another amendment, by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to cut funding for transportation safety back to 2008 levels, failed by the same count.
The committee approved an amendment by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to create an office of freight planning and development in the Department of Transportation.
The bill, S. 1950, is called the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enforcement Act. It now goes to the Senate floor to await action by other Senate committees on other provisions of the highway reauthorization bill.
The Environment and Public Works Committee is working on a measure that would reauthorize the federal highway program at current funding levels for two years. The Finance Committee is looking for the $12 billion difference between current funding levels and the revenue that the Highway Trust Fund will produce.