A major infrastructure package that includes provisions to hike truckers’ insurance coverage to $2 million and delay the September 29 start date for new federal hours of service (HOS) changes was approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act, which passed the Democrat-controlled House largely along party lines by a vote of 233 to 188, was derided by Republicans in the chamber as a “wish list” partisan bill heavy on climate-change related proposals that is unlikely to move past the Republican-controlled Senate.
“It’s an absolute failure – it’s not going anywhere,” commented House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee ranking member Sam Graves (R-Missouri). The White House Office of Management and Budget recommended this week that President Trump veto the bill if it were to pass.
Independent owner-operators, who had initially supported the package, retracted that support after what they called a “poison pill” amendment was added to the bill increasing the minimum commercial truck insurance requirements from $750,000 to $2 million.
“There is not an ounce of reputable research that indicates imposing such a dramatic increase in insurance coverage does anything to reduce crash rates,” asserted the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA). “Increasing the minimum insurance requirements…in the midst of a major economic downturn would be nothing short of disastrous for many small motor carriers and owner-operators, who are currently struggling to stay in business due to historically low freight rates.”
While supporting the legislation’s primary goal of working toward FAST Act reauthorization and improving the nation’s infrastructure, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) also opposed the insurance increase.
“This language was written by trial lawyers, supported by trial lawyers and, to no surprise, benefits trial lawyers,” commented ATA Executive Vice President for Advocacy Bill Sullivan. “This new $2 million cap was arbitrarily plucked out of thin air by the American Association of Justice [AAJ] and aside from lining the pockets of AAJ members, it lacks relevant data. If a change to the minimum insurance cap is to be made, it must reflect the direct input of the trucking industry and be based on actuarial data – not special interest pandering.”
The legislation includes a five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs, including over $3 billion for driver and motor carrier safety oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
But it also requires FMCSA to conduct a safety review on the effects of the final HOS rule, which would delay the effective date by at least 18 months. Safety advocates and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have filed a petition on the HOS rule also seeking a delay.
The legislation funds grants for truck parking, establishes limits on detention times by shippers if drivers are not compensated, restores public availability of driver safety scores compiled through the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, and creates a task force to investigate predatory lease-purchase agreements between carriers and independent owner-operators.
Also included is $25 billion in funding for the ailing U.S. Postal Service, with $6 billion of that amount dedicated for the agency to invest in new zero-emission trucks.
NATSO, which represents truck stops and travel plazas, joined OOIDA in opposing the legislation after a provision was included to allow electric vehicle charging stations at interstate rest areas.
The country’s major freight railroads also opposed the bill, which mandates train crew sizes, requires studies on precision scheduled railroading, and would effectively repeal the recent approval by the Trump administration allowing liquefied natural gas to move in rail tank cars.
“At a time that desperately calls for politicians to come together to meet pressing challenges, including infrastructure, the bill woefully misses the mark,” the Association of American Railroads asserted. “Throughout the crafting of the bill and even during the markup, past precedent of bipartisan collaboration was largely absent.”
Last summer the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee passed its own $287 billion surface transportation bill, but other committees in that chamber with jurisdiction have yet to weigh in.
The current five-year surface transportation law, the FAST Act, expires on September 30. Given that the 2020 presidential election takes place in early November, Washington insiders see little appetite among Republicans to move on a long-term surface reauthorization. Instead a series of short-term authorization measures is considered a more likely scenario.
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