Congress nears completion of long-term highway bill

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 11/18/2015

The first long-term highway bill in more than a decade is nearing reality.

With passage of the Surface Transportation Restoration and Reform Act by the House and the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act passed by the Senate, the last details to be nailed down were ironing out the differences between the two bills. That task falls to a conference committee with members of the House and Senate meeting and finalizing an agreed upon bill.

The current highway legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, was set to expire on Nov. 20. But the House passed another short-term extension on Monday night, extending MAP-21 until Dec. 4.

An extension will give the conference committee until Dec. 4 to wrap up negotiations, finalize a bill and get it passed by Congress and signed by the president. The Senate has yet to take up the short-term extension, but Washington, D.C., insiders say that vote could come as early as Thursday, Nov. 19.

Much debate still swirls around several provisions in the differing highway bills.

Drawing fire is a provision allowing drivers younger than 21 to participate in a pilot program driving interstate, as well as a provision allowing 33-foot doubles, up from the currently compliant 28-foot pups.

While both those provisions are generally opposed by drivers on the road today, two other provisions that would actually harm truckers if passed also remain hotly debated – a provision attacking fair pay for drivers and another defending against unnecessary increases in insurance requirements.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has issued calls to action in recent days on both of these issues.

Generally referred to as Denham Amendment No. 8, language introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and currently included in the House version of the highway bill attempts to restrict states’ ability to allow driver pay for rest and meal breaks as well as other forms of compensation beyond base mileage pay.

OOIDA sees this as an attempt by large motor carrier lobby groups to further erode driver pay. Read more about the issue here in OOIDA’s call to action.

The second call to action involves protecting language in the House version of the highway bill that will prohibit any increase in the current insurance requirement without proper study and justification.

OOIDA has pointed to FMCSA’s own research showing that more than 99.7 percent of all crashes are more than adequately covered by the current $750,000 requirement. In addition, the Association says all of the research and attempts at justifying an increase have not proven that the roads will actually be safer. All attempts are purely economically motivated, the Association leadership says.

Still, there are those who are attempting to strip the language out of the House version, and basically greenlight insurance increases without justification. Read more about those attempts here in OOIDA’s call to action.

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Laura O’Neill-Kaumo says that as the conference committee continues to meet on resolving differences between the two bills, it’s critical that truckers continue to communicate with their lawmakers on these key issues.

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