SPECIAL REPORT: Trucking protections firmly planted in port security bill

| 9/15/2006

Sept. 15, 2006 - Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say a bill approved this week by the U.S. Senate takes critical steps in making trucking security an essential part of our overall national security plan. OOIDA worked with two senators to get trucking protections firmly planted in a key amendment added to the port security bill on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

The U.S. Senate passed the sprawling bipartisan bill on Thursday, Sept. 14, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to spend $6.7 billion over six years for port security and calls for 100 percent of cargo to be inspected in the foreseeable future.

The bill includes an amendment brought by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-AR, and Sen. Jim Talent, R-MO, which aims to eliminate fraud among applicants for CDLs and to regulate truck drivers from Mexico driving in the U.S.

Pryor said the country needs to do more than identify existing gaps in our security, but also close them. He described this measure as one that will "light a fire" under transportation officials to help ensure basic training and citizenship requirements are met before a driver is allowed to haul thousands of pounds of cargo throughout the nation's highways.

"Certainly, it's huge, because it's been one of the glaring loopholes in our security system to address the issues raised by NAFTA trucks," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

"This has been a loophole ever since NAFTA went into effect," Spencer said.

"What it's going to mean is it specifically directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to set up and actually get those programs operating that will have state commercial-vehicle enforcement cops actually checking for those items as they stop the trucks," he said.

The Senate accepted the Pryor-Talent amendment as part of a larger group of amendments, and voted 98-0 in favor of the whole bill.

OOIDA's director of government affairs, Rod Nofzigerof OOIDA's Washington, DC, office said senators added numerous amendments to the original bill, including offerings from Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, that relate to name-based background checks for port haulers.

"The main thing there is to check for felons and people who are not here legally," Nofziger said.

The Pryor-Talent amendment urges FMCSA to:

  • Create a roadside inspection process for verifying whether a foreign trucker is operating legally in the U.S.;
  • Whether the cargo is true international freight or an unauthorized and illegal point-to-point shipment;
  • Verify a person's citizenship or legal status in the U.S. before issuing them a CDL; and
  • Put anti-fraud measures in place to ensure that DMV employees or third-party testers are not taking bribes from people who would not be able to obtain a CDL legally.

The amendment also urges the Department of Homeland Security to provide federal, state and local law enforcement with directions on what laws they must be enforcing on foreign trucks and foreign truckers operating within U.S. borders.

OOIDA issued a "Call to Action" on Wednesday to its 144,000 members, urging truckers to call their senators to vote in favor of the Pryor-Talent amendment.

Spencer said the "Call to Action" had the desired effect.

"This happened in no small way, because a lot of truckers made those phones ring (Wednesday)," he said.

Spencer said foreign trucks have been operating in the U.S. for a long time, and while some of them are perfectly authorized to operate, many others are not.

"This amendment that's included in the port security bill will tell the enforcement people to get off their backsides and start enforcing these regulations, and it will give them the power to do that as well," Spencer said.

The important piece of legislation now moves to the conference table. Nofziger said now that the bill has passed in the Senate, it has to be joined with a House bill that has already passed. He said the bills are different, but they have the same intent.

- By David Tanner, staff writer