Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) has once again introduced his legislation (HR 2346) to give local governments the authority to enforce Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations governing citizens band radios. This time, however, it includes a provision suggested by OOIDA to protect drivers from potential harassment by local governments.
The original problem this legislation was meant to solve was that of amateur radio hobbyists who illegally boost the signal of their CB radio and disrupt their neighbors' radios, televisions and telephones. Rep. Ehlers wanted to give local governments the authority to enforce these specific FCC rules because the FCC claims that it lacks the resources to do so.
Truckdrivers, on the other hand, feared that this law would give localities one more excuse to pull their truck over, get in the cab, and find any reason to write a ticket. OOIDA expressed these concerns to Congress and was able to suggest a new provision in the bill that would stop localities from using the law in this way.
If this legislation were to pass, localities would need probable cause (based on technical guidelines provided by the FCC) to believe that a driver was in violation of the law before pulling a driver over. Probable cause is a legal term that means more than a reasonable belief that a particular person is violating or has violated the law. The technical guidelines from the FCC will mean that the police will need a technical determination that a driver is operating a CB in violation of the law before enforcing the regulations against him or her.
No similar legislation has been introduced into the Senate, and the future prospects of this bill in Congress are unclear at this time.
The Senate looks at motor carrier legislation
On Sept. 29 the Senate Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), held a hearing to discuss various proposals that have arisen in the context of legislation to establish a new modal administration. This hearing discussed several different issues related to motor carrier safety.
Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) discussed his legislation, S. 1524 (the Motor Carrier Safety Specialist Certification Act), that would require all motor carrier inspectors to be trained and certified for their job. Sen. Breaux would like to see that all safety inspectors have minimum competence and that inspections are uniform across the country.
Sen. Hutchison and several of the other members of the committee expressed their concern for the United States' lack of preparation to handle the opening of the international borders under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In a discussion about the efforts of states to staff the borders with truck inspectors, Sen. Hutchison made a strong statement that NAFTA is the responsibility of the federal government and that it needs to do more enforcement along the border.
It was also noted that there are several agencies in the federal government (i.e., the Federal Highway Administration, Customs Department, and Immigration and Naturalization) that have jurisdiction over different issues raised by NAFTA. There was general consensus at the hearing that there needs to be a more consolidated or coordinated effort at the border by these various federal government agencies to effectively address the impact of increased truck traffic from Mexico.
Another issue that arose was the status of the promulgation of new hours of service regulations. Sen. Olympia Snow (R-ME) grilled the Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth Wykle, asking why the Department of Transportation (DOT) has failed to meet congressional deadlines to promulgate new hours-of-service regulations. Gen. Wykle explained that they had received more than 1,200 public comments on hours-of-service regulations and that they have been working diligently to go through these comments and draft new rules. He promised that proposed hours-of-service regulations would be published with an invitation for additional public comment this fall.
No timeline for the passage of legislation to establish a new Motor Carrier Administration was discussed at the hearing.
Wolf reasserts dissatisfaction with OMCHS in appropriations bill
The effect of the DOT Appropriations Bill was the focus of swift attention by Congress as the transportation authorizing committee, led by Rep. Bud Shuster (R-PA), spoke out against a provision placed in the transportation appropriations bill. Authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the bill would deny funding to the Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety (OMCHS) as long as that office remained within the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Rep. Wolf, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, placed a similar provision into a version of the transportation appropriations bill earlier this year to promote his proposal to relocate OMCHS into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Rep. Wolf believed that this would push the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Rep. Shuster, to review problems at OMCHS and introduce legislation to strengthen enforcement of trucking safety rules.
" Rep. Wolf seemed to be placated when Rep. Shuster's authorizing committee took up the issue of trucking safety earlier this year, held hearings on the subject, and began to move legislation creating a new Motor Carrier Administration. It was, therefore, a surprise to many when the transportation appropriations bill passed Congress with a provision that would have required Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater to remove OMCHS from FHWA in order to keep its funding and stay in operation. This latest Wolf provision did not suggest where OMCHS should be located.
Amid confusion, Rep. Shuster's legislation restores order
The appropriations bill passed on Oct. 1. On Oct. 7, Rep. Tom Petri (R-MI), chairman of the Transportation Committee's Ground Transportation Subcommittee held an emergency hearing to discuss the implications of Wolf's provision. At this hearing, DOT officials testified that the provision would strip their power to levy fines and prosecute motor carriers for violations of the safety regulations.
The same day as the hearing, Rep. Shuster introduced legislation to repeal the disabling position. The measure was called up for a vote before the House on Oct. 12, and despite a strong statement of protest by Rep. Wolf three hours before, the bill passed unanimously (with Rep. Wolf's support). On Oct. 14 the legislation passed the Senate and was signed by the president five days later.
Although in lawmakers' eyes they averted a crisis, their activity on long-range plans for re-regulating motor carrier safety continued shortly thereafter. The same day that the Senate considered this bill, the House took up and passed legislation creating a Motor Carrier Safety Administration.