ELD ag exemption's fate tied to government funding deadline

 ( Photo: Shutterstock )

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Assuming a Continuing Resolution to fund the government is signed before Sunday, the exemption will continue through Dec. 7

The popular electronic logging device (ELD) exemption for agricultural haulers is up for renewal before Sept. 30, but it’s longer-term fate may hang with Congress’ ability to pass a budget – or at least a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open beyond Sunday.

Because the ELD exemption was Congressionally directed, it is part of the federal budget, Duane DeBruyne, spokesperson with FMCSA’s Office of Public Affairs, explained to FreightWaves. A CR would extend the current budget, and therefore all the programs contained within it. If there is a shutdown of the government on Sunday because there is no agreement on a budget (unlikely), the ELD exemption would cease to exist as well, requiring all ag haulers required under the ELD statue to comply with the regulations.

Once a new budget is passed, regardless of when that is, another ELD exemption will have to inserted into the bill to continue the exemption, or a separate exemption bill will need to be passed by both houses of Congress. A CR was passed by the House on Wednesday and sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. It would fund government operations through Dec. 7, but as of Thursday evening, he had not yet signed the bill.

The specific exemption from the ELD rule for ag haulers has been extended several times and there is a bill pending that would extend it for one year, rather than the 90-day timeframe that currently exists.

In the Senate’s version of a transportation bill is a provision that would deny funds being used for ELD enforcement on agricultural haulers. That bill, as of yet, has not passed the Senate and the House has not taken up a transportation bill yet.

There are other efforts in the Senate to create a more permanent solution for ag haulers. In May, a bill was introduced that would permanently exempt ag and livestock haulers from the ELD rule. The bill, “The Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act (S. 2938),” was introduced on May 23 by Sen. Benjamin Sasse (R-NE). In their letter, the two groups said the bill will do nothing for improving roadway safety and will just open the door to livestock drivers potentially driving for 24 hours or more with no breaks.

“We acknowledge that livestock haulers are unique, in that they are delivering live cargo; however, they are not the only carriers who haul time sensitive commodities,” the letter, signed by Catherine Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Lane Kidd, managing director of The Trucking Alliance, states. “Produce haulers, for example, use other legal means such as teams or relays to get their products to market safely and timely. Instead of exempting livestock haulers from this safety requirement, they should be encouraged to develop an answer to their logistics management issue. Regardless of commodities hauled, we should never sacrifice the safety of the general public sharing our highways or the truck drivers delivering them for the purpose of getting any product to market.”

The bill would exempt much of the time a livestock driver spends not driving from their official on-duty time. It would apply to “a driver transporting livestock (as defined in section 602 of the Agricultural Act of 1949 (7 U.S.C. 1471)) or insects within a 300 air-mile radius from the point at which the on-duty time of the driver begins with respect to the trip.”

However, it has yet to be assigned to a committee, the first step in the legislative process.

Currently, under FMCSA rules, ag haulers can utilize several codified exemptions to avoid using an ELD. These include the 150 air-mile exemption, where a driver hauling an ag product from a “source” location, is exempt and those miles and time do not count against the driver’s hours of service. Once the driver leaves that mile radius, the 11-hour and 14-hour clocks start ticking. Upon returning to the radius, the clocks again stop, allowing the driver to drive within that 150 air-mile radius without the pressure of a clock.