Washington Insider
House passes fuel surcharge bill, close in senate at press time

As of publication date of this Land Line, HR4441 (the Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Equity Act) had passed the House of Representatives by voice vote, but had not cleared the Senate.

The procedure for Senate consideration of the legislation is different than that for the House. Normally a bill sent to the Senate from the House must go through committees, amendments and several votes before it is finally voted on by the full Senate. By the time the House of Representatives passed HR4441, there was no time for the bill to jump through all of these hoops.

Therefore, the bill had two possible expedited paths in the Senate. One would be to amend it to another bill that was assured of passing the Senate. The second would be to pass the bill under "Unanimous Consent" which requires approval of every Senator without a single objection. If one person objects or puts a "hold" on the bill then its approval is not "unanimous" and will not pass. As of the writing of this column, "Unanimous Consent" procedures had been approved for HR4441 and the chances of its attachment to another bill were uncertain. If this bill does not pass the Senate, we will have to wait until next year when the bill must be reintroduced in the new Congress and start the entire process again.

Congress passes $58 billion funding bill for Department of Transportation and related programs

Congress passed a Transportation Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2001 that makes significant new appropriations for highways and truck regulatory enforcement.

Noted earlier in Land Line is a provision to lower the blood alcohol level to a nationwide limit of .08 percent. This will be accomplished by threatening to withhold highway funding from any state that does not adopt that blood-alcohol limit.

As reported in the last "Washington Insider," a compromise of the proposed Hours-of-Service rules will allow the DOT to continue to study and receive comments on the rulemaking, but prohibit the publication of a final rule before Oct. 1, 2001. This does not change the deadline for public comment on the rule, which is Dec. 15, 2000. It is suspected, however, that there could be an interim revised proposed rule that would then allow for further public comment.

Highway funding will increase by $2.6 billion from last year to $31.4 billion this year. Highlights of the big ticket items specifically earmarked within these funds include $600 million for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge between Maryland and Virginia, the only federally-owned bridge in the national highway system. A specific earmark of $100 million was made for further development of an Appalachian highway project centered in West Virginia, a popular project of several lawmakers, including the power ranking Democrat on the Senate appropriations committee, Robert Byrd (D-VA).

Under the Transportation and Community and System Preservation Program, which goes to specific local projects, funding was provided for mobile weigh stations for use on Virginia roads that are being used to avoid the permanent weigh station on Route 81. More specifically, these portable weigh stations will be used in and around Fauquier, Clarke and Loudoun counties, and on Route 50 and U.S. 17 (Crooked Run Valley).

The new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) received $82.3 million for administrative expenses and $9.8 million for research. Congress approved 119 new full-time employees for the agency, including 20 new border inspectors.

Other highlights of the FMCSA budget include:

  • $2.9 million for improved data collection on "motor carrier crashes," improvements in the national reporting of driver citation and the identification of "problem drivers."
  • $9.8 million for the "share the road" and "no-zone" programs.
  • $10 million for improvement of the Commercial Drivers License program. This includes the goal of developing ways to "ensure that drivers who have been convicted of a disqualifying offense do not operate during the period of suspension or revocation."
  • $500,000 for "covert operation" intended to report on the extent that out-of-service notices are being violated.
  • Unspecified amount for the Commonwealth of Virginia to test and develop infrared brake inspection devices.

As the FMCSA begins its first fully funded fiscal year, many parties, including OOIDA, will be intensely watching its work. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report recently that questioned the effectiveness of DOT programs to accomplish its truck safety goals. Whether FMCSA makes progress on its goal of reducing truck accidents should be the real road map of how DOT funds are spent.