By a vote of 74-22, the U.S. Senate passed its two-year, $109 billion transportation bill on Wednesday, March 14. The action sends the bill to the House for consideration. OOIDA was quick to commend the Senate on advancing a bill that contains a number of positives for trucking.
“We are grateful for the hard work and progress made toward finalizing a highway reauthorization,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.
The Senate vote on S1813, also known as MAP-21, marks the first time a federal legislative body has passed a highway bill since SAFETEA-LU became law in August 2005.
MAP-21 is not a law yet, but the vote does mark a critical step in a long journey.
“While not perfect, the passing of this bill represents an important step forward in reforming our surface transportation programs back to where they belong,” Spencer said, “which is to focus on maintaining and improving our roads and bridges.”
Notably for truckers, the bill contains a provision to address the critical shortage of safe truck parking. The bill reforms freight brokering rules and increases the bond brokers and freight forwarders pay from $10,000 to $100,000. A study of the crashworthiness of truck cabs is also high on the list of positives for truckers.
The Senate bill contains some provisions that many truckers oppose. One of those is a mandate for electronic on-board recorders in commercial vehicles. OOIDA continues to work with lawmakers on some of those issues.
“While there are still complications such as an EOBR mandate in this bill, we are relieved that a significant first step has been taken,” Spencer said. “This bill has a long way to go before it gets to the president’s desk, and OOIDA will continue to fight against costly and unnecessary mandates.”
During debate on Wednesday, senators defeated a measure to expand drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Another measure that got defeated would have allowed private businesses to operate at highway rest areas.
A pair of senators withdrew their respective amendments related to tolling, One amendment by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, would have done away with tolling on federal highways, while the other by Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, would have expanded interstate tolling to 10 states. Hutchison and Carper agreed to withdraw their amendments and leave intact the current policy that allows up to three states to toll interstates as part of a pilot program.
OOIDA supported an amendment that stayed in and became part of the bill. Brought forward by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, the provision would prevent states from receiving federal funding for highway lane miles that are leased or sold to the private sector.
“This is good news for small-business truckers and all highway users,” Spencer said.
The next stop for the bill is the House of Representatives, where lawmakers can take up MAP-21 or offer their own version. Eventually, the House and Senate must agree on final language before sending a finished bill to the president’s desk for signature.
An important deadline for transportation is looming on March 31. That’s when the provisions of SAFETEA-LU will expire for the eighth time since its initial expiration date in September 2009.
Unless the House and Senate can somehow get the new bill done by March 31 – something that insiders say is unlikely – a ninth temporary extension would be necessary to buy sufficient time.
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