Oklahoma proposal would significantly change trucking regulation. Why is it being pursued?

  Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Legislation that would move regulation of trucking in Oklahoma away from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and on to the Department of Public Safety is raising eyebrows in the state, and with no clear explanation as to the goal in the shift.

Additionally, the sponsor of the legislation, Republican Mark Allen, owns a trucking company that services the oil fields and would presumably be affected by it. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Trucking Association, while not coming out clearly against the legislation, did draft a letter to legislators that could be sent by any of its members to tell them that “We believe extreme caution should be used when considering this legislation. “

The bill has passed the Senate, and did so with only one vote in opposition. It is now in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.   

Allen has been mostly silent on the legislation; a series of questions emailed to his office by Freightwaves had not received a response as this was published. Allen’s office told a reporter for an Oklahoma business publisher, the Journal Record, that it would only respond to emailed questions, which is against Journal Record policy.

Beyond that, Allen’s reasons for pushing the bill are not known, as sources in Oklahoma know of no obvious advocates for it beyond Allen himself.

The change in the law is fairly simple on its surface. It takes the regulation of intrastate truck transportation in Oklahoma and switches its regulation from the OCC over to the Department of Public Safety. The substitution is so one-for-one that the online version of the bill is little more than the existing law, with lines through most of the references to Oklahoma Corporation Commission and Department of Public Safety added to it.

Under existing law, the OCC enforcement officers are deemed to be “peace officers” of the state. The existing law spells out all the areas of enforcement that the OCC officers can engage in.

The split nature of the enforcement is clear in a passage of the existing law, which the new law would eliminate: “The Department of Public Safety, monthly, shall notify the Oklahoma Corporation Commission of any ticket issued for a violation…” If the Allen proposal becomes law, it would mean that the OCC would be out of the enforcement business. Not surprisingly, that section of the law is eliminated in the proposed legislation.

There is another provision of the law that is eliminated: the governance of “all private carriers operating vehicles having a gross registered weight of greater than 26,000 pounds and not operating exclusively within the limits of an incorporated city or town in this state.” That weight is the basic amount for FMCSA regulation.

According to reporting by the Journal Record, that would eliminate regulation on the Allen family’s business, Allen Rathole. In a recent story written by Sarah Terry-Cobo, the author interpreted the legislation has “effectively remov(ing) the state’s oversight of private motor carriers that weigh 26,000 pounds or more, such as companies that haul their own loads.” The paper also said the proposed law eliminates commercial insurance requirements for private carriers hauling anything other than hazardous materials. Their insurance requirement would be no more strict than what governs the general public.

The Journal Record cited public documents as saying Allen Rathole owns 17 interstate carriers servicing the oil and gas industry.

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In an interview with Oklahoma public radio, Terry-Cobo said the OCC is uniquely set up to deal with trucking infractions. “The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has its own administrative court system, which is really important for oversight because you've got 30,000 to 40,000 citations a year and you need a court to handle all those tickets,” she said. “If it moves from OCC to DPS as it shifts the burden of those tens of thousands of tickets into local district courts where these ports of entry are located.”

All of this is going on while there already is a task force named by Gov. Mary Fallin to study the role of the OCC. In the “Dear Legislator” letter drafted by the Oklahoma Trucking Association, that fact was noted.   “Why would a bill be passed only to learn later it was possibly a step in the wrong direction?” the letter asks.

Although the Association has no formal position on the legislation, its discomfort with it is obvious. Among the questions asked by the letter:

  • “Have all stakeholders been included collectively in this proposal? Oklahoma Trucking Association, Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Oklahoma Department of Transportation, and the Department of Public Safety?  Some have not.”
  • “Will the final policy of enforcement be more efficient, effective, and demonstrate proven savings?  If it's a good idea today, it will still be a good idea tomorrow.”
  • “Today's enforcement fines are handled in one place with funds going towards enforcement.  Could this legislation create 77 different county court house venues with fines going to the local court instead of to enforcement?  Is that even constitutional? “

The last question refers to the current system of disbursement of fines collected through the OCC enforcement mechanism, with critics unclear what replaces it.

“We believe these answers provide the best justification for the direction of the legislature and ultimately for the interest of Oklahoma citizens,” the letter concludes. “Legislators should be able to explain a significant change in enforcement policy by knowing these facts.”

The legislation sailed through the Senate with only one negative vote. However, it was cautioned by one observer that assuming such a lack of resistance in the House of Representatives was premature.