Washington Insider

Paul Cullen, Jr.
The Cullen Law Firm

For truckdrivers, the end of Congress had all the ups and downs of a wrestling match with Minnesota Governor-elect, Jesse "The Body" Ventura. On the proposal to allow localities to enforce federal citizens band radio regulations, truckers avoided a "full body slam." On the erosion of truckers' rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, however, the fix was in. Congress and the president fell under the effects of a "sleeper hold" by the American Trucking Associations and DAC Services. Finally, in its final round of action in Washington, Congress and the president brought home a few souvenirs of interest to small business truckers in the last omnibus spending bill.

Round 1

Bell rings before CB legislation brought up for a vote, OOIDA lays ground work for future compromise

Congress adjourned before it had an opportunity to vote on legislation that would have given localities the right to enforce federal regulations for citizens band radios. This legislation was the source of particular concern by truck drivers for the unpredictable ways in which localities may try to use their new enforcement power. Although the useful purpose of this legislation was to crack down on the problem of illegally power-boosted CB radios at base stations, the fear of truckers was that localities would use this law as an excuse to harass trucks driving through their jurisdictions.

Even though this bill died, several members of Congress were helpful to OOIDA in changing the bill so that a locality would need "probable cause" before it enforced CB regulations against a truckdriver. This compromise, to prevent localities from arbitrarily pulling over trucks, was only possible with the timely and effective help of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Reps. Tom Bliley and John Dingell. Although Congress will not consider the bill the rest of this year, OOIDA has received the assurance of Rep. Dingell that, should this bill be reintroduced into the next Congress, he will again help OOIDA make this compromise part of the legislation.

Round 2

ATA and DAC Services put legislative "sleeper-hold" on Congress, president; Legislation passed that erodes trucker rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act

Working behind the scenes in Congress, the ATA and DAC Services, were able - without a single public hearing, - to get an amendment passed to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This would allow trucking companies to need only the oral authorization of a job applicant before they get his or her credit report. The supporters of the bill told its Congressional sponsors (Sens. Nickles (R-OK) and Bryan (D-NV) and Congressmen Leach (R-IA) and Lucas (R-OK)) that the "trucking industry" needed to hire truckers over the telephone, and that the old law, requiring a company to get an applicant's written authorization, was too burdensome.

Although the FCRA will continue to require that 1) the company have the applicant's authorization to get his report, and 2) that the report only be used for specific legitimate purposes, OOIDA is concerned that oral authorization will make it easier for unscrupulous companies to avoid these requirements.

OOIDA, with the help of many of its members, brought these concerns to the attention of the Clinton administration, but it proved too late to stop this legislation from becoming law. The efforts of OOIDA members, and other truckers, in contacting the White House were impressive. Those contacts were extremely beneficial in educating the White House of the unique interests and concerns of truckdrivers. OOIDA will be building on these contacts so that, in the future, the interests of truckdrivers are better considered when changes in the law are proposed.

Final Round Of the 105th Congress

In its final round of partisan tag-teaming, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included legislation on a broad range of topics.

For the small-business trucker, the most useful part of this legislation would allow the self-employed to deduct a greater percentage of their health insurance premiums from their taxes. Currently, the percentage of health insurance premiums that can be deducted is 45 percent and will slowly rise to 100 percent by the year 2007. Under the law just passed, that schedule will speed up to 60 percent for your 1999 taxes and rise to 100 percent by 2003.

This bill also began to spend the highway trust fund (as authorized in the TEA-21 transportation bill earlier in the year), and set the spending level for highways and highway safety at $25.5 billion for 1999. Additionally, Congress decided to spend $71.5 million on equipment for drug interdiction activities of the U.S. Customs Service, including the purchase of equipment to take truck X-rays at border points-of-entry. On a related topic, $10 million was dedicated to a program to aid small businesses in creating drug-free work places.

Last but not least, Congress passed a provision that prohibited the spending of any money on the establishment and enforcement of any regulation having to do with peanut-free buffer zones or peanut-restricted areas on airplanes. Sen. Shelby (R-AL) and the peanut-allergic lobby went to the mat on this issue.

Final score by the Judges

Election results a draw

The election proved to be another strong showing for incumbents, and portends no real change in transportation policy. Of the 34 Senate seats up for election, only three Senators running for re-election lost (Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) and Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL). In the House of Representatives only six incumbents lost; they were Reps. Vince Snowbarger (R-KS), Jon Fox (R-PA), Bill Redmond (R-NM), Mike Pappas (R-NJ), Rick White (R-WA), and Jay Johnson (D-WI). Reps. Fox and Johnson were the only defeated members of the large House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Whatever the makeup of Congress, however, the Washington Insider encourages you to make your voice heard to your Representatives and Senators. Never underestimate the effect of your letters, faxes, and phone calls to elected officials. In the upcoming issues of Land Line, the Washington Insider will let you know what trucking issues the next Congress is considering, and in which ones you may want to have a say. LL