Denham amendment, restricting state impact on hours, moves forward in House

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The so-called Denham amendment that restricts a state’s ability to set its own rules on meal breaks and other shifts in hours of service moved forward Thursday with the passage of the FAA authorization bill by the House of Representatives.

The amendment, also known as the Denham-Cuellar-Costa Amendment, must still survive a Senate vote and any conference committee changes. Rep. Jeff Denham, Republican of California, added the amendment to the FAA legislation in the past few days.

It is legislation that has put the American Trucking Association against OOIDA, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Associaton. ATA touted the vote late Thursday in a prepared statement, quoting ATA President as saying that Congress had affirmed that it was the federal government that “has had the power to regulate interstate commerce,  Congress reaffirmed this for the trucking industry first in 1994 and again today by approving the Denham-Cuellar-Costa Amendment."

Meanwhile, OOIDA, a day before the House vote, put out a “call to action” that says the amendment—which has been unsuccessful in prior efforts—is legislation that would impact driver pay, and not just issues such as meal breaks. ““If (Denham) is sincerely interested in solely addressing a patchwork of state meal and rest break laws, he should consider a more concise amendment. The amendment being debated now is overly broad and has no business being considered in an aviation bill,” OOIDA acting President Todd Spencer said in that organization’s statement a day before the vote.

If the Denham amendment becomes law, “Motor carriers would only have to pay drivers on a piecework or per-mile basis. Gone could be any chance at pay for detention time, safety inspections, paperwork, or any other work-related tasks that do not involve racking up miles. It could also gut the ability of states to individually address these sorts of issues in the future.”

Although minority leader Nancy Pelosi urged her members to vote against amendment, two of the three sponsors--Henry Cuellar and Jim Costa—are both Democrats. 

According to a story in The Hill, Pelosi sent a letter to the members recommending the “no” vote. “The Denham amendment would roll back guaranteed meal and rest breaks for drivers, eroding a key safeguard against fatigue, crashes and vehicular deaths,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. “This wrongheaded amendment denies truck drivers the voluntary lunch or rest break that they are guaranteed in more than 20 states by state law, which in many cases have been on the books for decades.”

The opposite view was expressed by ATA in its statement released late Thursday. “These unnecessary and duplicative laws are not grounded in safety, nor being enforced by the states. Rather, they are being used to fuel spurious litigation designed to extort the trucking industry, impairing the safe and efficient movement of interstate goods,” the ATA said.