The Senate Appropriations Committee on June 7 advanced to the full chamber the FY2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related (THUD) Appropriations Act. The committee approved the massive package by a unanimous bipartisan vote of 31-0. The $71.4 billion bill enables annual funding for transportation infrastructure development, housing assistance, and community development programs. It provides $1.1 billion above FY2018 enacted levels.
However, as pointed out in the AASHTO Journal, transportation funding levels are slightly lower year over year. The $26.6 billion for Department of Transportation discretionary appropriations for Fiscal Year 2019 is $698 million less than the Fiscal Year 2018 enacted level, according to the committee.
On the other hand, the package also authorizes $46 billion to be transferred from the highway trust fund to the federal-aid Highways Program. The AASHTO report noted that measure is “consistent” with the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act highway bill of 2015: “In keeping with the two-year budget agreement's emphasis on infrastructure investments, the bill provides $3.3 billion in additional funding for highway programs from the general fund, including $90 million to eliminate hazards at railway-highway grade crossings and $800 million for bridge repairs.”
What the Senate version of the THUD bill does not contain are any of the riders that trucking interests have been flogging on Capitol Hill, such as provisions for waivers of the electronic logging device rule or to prevent states from pre-empting federal law on meal and rest breaks for truckers.
That’s not to say the appropriations committee was unwilling to grub around in the whys and wherefores of the ELD exemption for agricultural haulers related to their existing 150 air-mile radius exemption from the hours-of-service rule. Indeed, the Senate THUD Act contains language that “directs the Department [of Transportation] to consult with stakeholders, the Department of Agriculture, and the House and Senate authorizing committees on legislative solutions for drivers with unique working conditions.”
The bill states that DOT “should take into consideration the unique challenges associated with transporting live animals and agricultural commodities, as well as ensuring roadway safety.”
Thus warmed up to the topic, the committee “notes that the House Committee on Appropriations reported a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, 2019 bill that prohibits funds from being used to enforce an electronic logging device mandate for livestock or insects.”
And then the kicker: The committee is “concerned that the definition FMCSA uses for ‘agricultural commodity’ is outdated and does not include certain livestock such as farm-raised, ornamental, and bait fish.” Therefore, DOT is directed to work with the Department of Agriculture “on a definition of livestock which [sic] includes farm-raised, ornamental and bait fish and that is more consistent with current programs operating under the Department of Agriculture.”
Other language buried in the bill calls for NHTSA and FMCSA “to fully and expeditiously address all public comments” pertaining to the joint proposed rule published on August 26, 2016 to require speed limiter devices on heavy-duty vehicles. “The final rule should address the impact of creating speed differentials on highways and consider the costs and benefits of applying the rule to existing heavy vehicles that are equipped with speed limiting devices,” the committee stated.
However, that expressed desire may be no more than wishful thinking as action on a speed limiter rule has been off the near-term agendas for both FMCSA and NHTSA since last summer.
To be sure, amendments favored by one or another group of trucking stakeholders may be added to the Senate THUD bill once it is brought to the floor of the Senate. And the House, which is generally been more receptive to trucking riders, also has to yet to bring forth its version of the legislation for consideration by that chamber.
The upshot: At the very least, in the months ahead, look for more ELD exemption measures to be debated and voted upon on Capitol Hill.