2008 Legislative Updates
CVSA Meets With President-Elect Obama’s DOT Transition Team
Soon after the November 4 election, President-Elect Obama’s transition team dispatched representatives to each agency and department of the federal government to undertake a review of current issues. This included the Department of Transportation and its individual modal administrations. Such reviews consisted of not only in-depth discussions with agency personnel but also with key constituencies of that agency. As a major partner of FMCSA, FHWA and PHMSA, CVSA was invited to participate in this process at a meeting with the Obama Transportation Transition team on November 24. This is the first time that CVSA has been invited to participate in the transition process for an incoming Administration. Transition team members included Henry Jasny (Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety), Greg Tarpinian (Transportation Trade Unions), and Mortimer Downey, (Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the Clinton Administration). Other stakeholder groups in the meeting were ATA, NPTC, OOIDA, TCA, and TMA.
Congressional Meetings Underway to Discuss Reauthorization Proposals
The reauthorization process is now fully underway. CVSA has met on several occasions with majority and minority staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We have been told that Chairman Oberstar wants to have the outline of a bill ready by Inauguration Day with specific legislative language drafted soon thereafter. His goal is to introduce a bill ahead of the new Administration. Meetings with Senate Commerce Committee staff began on December 15.
As with the Obama transition team, these Congressional meetings thus far have not revealed any specific ideas or themes as to where Congress will be coming from. Up to this point they want to hear from CVSA and other constituent groups what their/our issues are along with as much supporting information as possible. CVSA issues drawing the most interest are flexible grant programs tied to performance-based accountability, maintenance of effort, and a review and tightening up of the safety exemption process.
More Details of Obama’s Stimulus Package Emerging
One of President-Elect Obama’s stimulus package proposals would make the largest investment in the nations’ infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956. It appears, thus far, that funding would go to “hard infrastructure” projects that are ready to go.
Preparation of the stimulus package is now occupying much of Congressional staff time. It is anticipated that a stimulus bill will be ready for House and Senate consideration soon after the January 20 Inauguration. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has said that Obama’s recovery plan is separate and distinct from what will be needed in the transportation reauthorization bill.
Should the stimulus bill contain tax incentives for business to create more jobs (which is likely), it is possible that the Truck Safety Technology Act that CVSA has been working on over the past year with other industry partner groups could be included. However, details of what any potential tax bill would look like are not known at this time.
This week FMCSA has issued two Final Rules, one regarding the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program and another regarding the safety and inspection of Intermodal Chassis Equipment, commonly referred to as the Roadability rule. Both will impact on the CVSA Membership and your activities, so we encourage you to review them and to let us know if you have any concerns or questions. The Electronic Onboard Recorder Final rule is still under review at the Office of Management and Budget and it is hoped that it will be published soon.
UCR Fees and Enforcement Date Set for 2009
At its recent teleconference meeting on September 4, the UCR Board set January 1, 2009 for when states can begin enforcement of the 2009 UCR registration. The fees will be the same as those in 2008. CVSA will be sending a more detailed enforcement bulletin covering this issue in the near future.
Trust Fund Bailout Spares Highway and Safety Programs from Cuts
Congress passed legislation recently that transferred $8 billion from the general fund of the federal government to the Highway Trust Fund. This action averts an almost immediate reduction in highway and safety funding to the states. The Highway Trust Fund was fast approaching bankruptcy due to a sharp drop in fuel tax revenues resulting from a reduction in travel by the public during this year’s sharp spike in fuel prices.
Continuing Resolution to Carry 2008 Funding Levels into Next Year
As mentioned in the July 14, 2008 Legislative Update, final passage of a 2009 DOT Appropriations bill, along with appropriations bills for most other federal departments and agencies with the exception of the Defense Department, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, will be deferred to the new Congress next year. A Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund the federal government, including DOT and motor carrier safety programs, at 2008 levels through March 6, 2009 was passed by Congress this past week-end.
The CR means that the overall amount of funding for the MCSAP program that is available to FMCSA to dispense to the states will remain at the level of $202 million through early next year rather than increase to $209 million as authorized by SAFETEA-LU for the 2009 fiscal year. The funding levels for all other state safety grant programs will remain the same as 2008, but only because SAFETEA-LU authorizes them at the same funding levels for 2008 and 2009. These grant programs include CDL, Border Enforcement, PRISM, Safety Data, CDLIS Modernization, and CVISN.
House Votes to Stop the Mexican Border Pilot Program
Earlier this month, the House by an overwhelming vote of 395-18, passed legislation that would force the Department of Transportation to end its pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to operate throughout the United States. A comparable bill did not come up for consideration in the Senate. However, there is a provision that would stop the program in the Senate DOT Appropriations bill for 2009 which cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee in July, but as noted above, passage of 2009 appropriations bills will not occur until early next year. In early August, the Department of Transportation announced plans to continue the program for two additional years. As a result, the pilot program seems likely to remain in place until at least March of next year.
Truck Safety Technology Bill Gaining Support
As previously announced in CVSA’s press release of August 6, Senate Bill S. 3428, the “Commercial Motor Vehicle Advanced Safety Technology Tax Act of 2008” was introduced in the Senate by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH). Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) is also a co-sponsor. This is a companion bill to HR 3820 on the House side where it has 24 co-sponsors. This legislation provides tax credits to carriers that purchase stability control, collision avoidance, lane departure warning, and brake stroke monitoring systems for their commercial vehicles.
A major effort was undertaken to get as much support as possible in both the Senate and House in the remaining days of the 110th Congress in order to ensure that it has a high priority in next year’s Reauthorization bill.
Reauthorization Process Starting Up in the Congress
Congress is now beginning the process of shaping next year’s reauthorization bill. Although there have been no formal reauthorization hearings, there have been single issue hearings in the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee covering drug and alcohol testing, truck sizes and weights (see July 14, 2008 Legislative Update), and, most recently, medical oversight of commercial drivers. Over on the Senate side, the Commerce Committee held a bus safety hearing on September 18. Bus safety has now become a top priority for next year’s Reauthorization bill.
CVSA has met with the House T & I staff to discuss the Alliance’s Reauthorization issues. Considerable discussion took place on various exemptions from the motor carrier safety regulations that included the agricultural and utility hours-of-service exemptions. House T & I Committee Chairman, James Oberstar (D-MN) has said that he intends to start drafting a reauthorization bill this fall to have it ready to introduce in the House after the new Congress convenes next January.
It should also be noted that in a recently released outline of major Reauthorization proposals by Secretary Transportation, Mary Peters, a major change in the FMCSA state grant programs was recommended that would combine all state grant programs including MCSAP, into one program with one set of matching fund requirements. Further details are not yet available, but it appears that this reflects one of CVSA’s major reauthorization proposals calling for more flexibility in the state safety grant programs. Even though the new Administration will shape DOT’s Reauthorization proposals to Congress next year, the current DOT recommendation on this issue helps strengthen CVSA’s position on this matter.
Finally, in reporting earlier (see July 14, 2008 Legislative Update) on the testimony of CVSA’s President John E. Harrison before the House T & I Subcommittee on Transit and Highways, it should be noted that Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) recognized President Harrison’s call for more state funding for size and weight enforcement as a good suggestion and worthy of consideration in next year’s reauthorization bill.
Senate Bus Safety Hearing Puts This Issue Front and Center for Reauthorization
On September 18, the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee held a hearing on bus safety that sets the stage for major consideration of this issue in next year’s Reauthorization bill. Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) presided. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) also attended.
While Senators Lautenberg and Hutchison questioned FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill, on steps to prevent bus crashes and fatalities such as bus safety audits, compliance reviews, and state bus inspection programs, they expressed greater concern about survivability issues within the jurisdiction of NHTSA. These include seat belts, window glazing, reinforced roofs, passenger egress, and fire prevention and suppression.
The original version of Senate Bill 2326 will be the starting point on bus safety in the reauthorization process (Bus Safety Bill), introduced in November of last year. The minority staff of the Subcommittee had drafted a more moderate version of S. 2326, but it has not been introduced in the Senate and was not discussed at the hearing.
CVSA President To Congressional Subcommittee:
Impact of Size, Weight Must Be Considered Before Changing Standards
CVSA President John E. Harrison, testifying on July 9 before a hearing to assess the impacts of existing truck size and weight regulations, said that several enforcement issues must be resolved first before any decisions are made that would change existing standards. The House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit is very likely to make changes to existing policies in next year’s reauthorization bill, but just what the nature of those changes will be remains to be seen.
Problems that can make enforcement difficult include a lack of uniformity of the standards and permitting processes among the states and even within state boundaries, lack of federal funding to cover costs of enforcement such as enforcement salaries and lack of data to determine if there is a correlation of oversize/overweight vehicles and their safety performance. Harrison said that many inspectors in the field believe there is such a correlation based on their experience, but that there is a lack of organized data to confirm this.
In addition to President Harrison, witnesses included representatives form the Federal Highway Administration, several state Departments of Transportation and industry. Those who support an increase in truck size and weights cited the need to become more energy efficient as well as to reduce traffic congestion and those raising questions about any increase cited highway safety concerns.
As far as determining what changes to the existing size and weight standards should be made, Harrison called for a stronger federal role in facilitating a framework for research, policy and performance based regulations, safety considerations and strengthening enforcement of size and weight regulations on both the Interstate and National Highway Systems. Inclusion of the National Highway System is important because crash data indicates that a larger proportion of fatal crashes are occurring on non-interstate highways.
Harrison said that such a framework could be accomplished by the establishment of a Commercial Traffic Effects Institute (CTEI) that would examine size and weight issues in an objective and systematic manner. He referenced a Transportation Research Board report done in 2003 that recommended creation of a CTEI.
“Taking a piecemeal approach through legislation or policy for short term political or economic gains in our view is not the most productive course of action for the long term,” Harrison said.
The full text of President Harrison’s testimony is available on CVSA’s website at www.cvsa.org.
2009 Appropriations Process Bogs Down
Although the 2009 DOT Appropriations bill that includes motor carrier safety funding has cleared both the Subcommittee and full Appropriations Committee on the Senate side, and the Subcommittee on the House side, it is very unlikely that Congress will complete work on this and other appropriations bills in this session of Congress. There will probably be a Continuing Resolution (CR) extending 2008 funding levels well into calendar year 2009 when the next President and next Congress will put their stamp on funding levels for 2009.
This means that MCSAP will continue to be funded at $202 million (‘08 level) instead of $209 which is the authorized funding level set in SAFETEA-LU for 2009 and which the Appropriations Committees have already provided for in their recent markups. The other state grant programs are funded at the same levels for 2008 and 2009 and are as follows:
$25 M - CDL programs
$32 M - Border Enforcement
$ 5 M - PRISM
$ 3 M - Safety Data
$ 8 M - CDLIS Modernization
$25 M - CVISN
Truck Safety Technology Bill Gains Momentum with 16 Additional Co-Sponsors
HR 3820, the “Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Technology Tax Act of 2007” which provides tax credits for motor carriers when they purchase collision warning, lane departure, vehicle stability and brake stroke monitoring systems, now has 16 additional co-sponsors in the House.
The act was introduced in the House last October by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Rep. Ron Lewis (R-KY) and will be introduced in the Senate before the August recess with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) as the lead sponsors.
Realistically, the Congress will not have time to complete work on this bill before it adjourns this fall. But the more support the bill has in this, the 110th Congress, the greater the chance of it being included in a safety technology title in next year’s reauthorization bill.
EOBR Legislation Possible
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) may be preparing to introduce a bill mandating EOBR’s before Congress adjourns this fall. As is the case with the truck safety technology bill, it is not expected that Congress will take action on the EOBR bill in this session, but it’s introduction will be a marker for next year’s reauthorization bill.
FMCSA 2009 Budget Released
FMCSA released its budget for FY 2009. The agency has requested funding levels for state motor safety grant programs at the SAFETEA-LU authorized levels.
|2009 Request||2008 Enacted|
|MCSAP||$209 Million||$202 Million|
|Total||$307 Million||$300 Million|
It appears likely that the 2009 requested schedule of funding will be approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The question is whether Congress will finish work on these bills in time for the start of the 2009 FY.
Congressional 2008 Hearing Schedules Starting to Emerge
The House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit has indicated a potential hearing on drug and alcohol testing pending the completion of another GAO report, a hearing on truck and size and weight issues, and a hearing on highway and motor carrier safety issues. These hearings may not actually take place until April or May.
On the Senate side, the Commerce Committee has indicated hearings will be held in the near future on the Mexican border pilot program and on bus safety. Motor carrier safety reauthorization hearings will likely occur later in the spring.
These potential hearing schedules are always subject to change and we will monitor the situation closely.
Electronic-on-Board Recorders (EOBR's)
Senator Lautenberg has said he plans to introduce and move legislation in the current session of Congress that will mandate the use of EOBR's. More details as they emerge.
President Signs 2008 DOT Appropriations Bill
President Bush signed the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill on December 27, 2008 that contained funding for Department of Transportation programs. Funds for the remainder of the 2008 Fiscal Year for MCSAP grant programs should be available to the states in the near future.
Reauthorization Process Begins
Surface Transportation Panel Recommends Restructuring of Major Programs Including Highway and Motor Carrier Safety
The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, created by SAFETEA-LU, issued its final recommendations on January 15 setting the stage for what promises to be a reauthorization process quite different from those in the past. It may, in fact, be the most significant reauthorization legislation considered since the Interstate Highway System was first created in 1956. It should be stressed at this point that these are only recommendations to Congress. They will be considered at length by the current Congress as well as the new Congress to convene a year from now in January 2009.
What has drawn the most headlines so far is the recommendation which could result in nearly tripling the federal fuel taxes over the next eight years to meet the growing needs of our surface transportation system. But in reality, the other recommendations of the Commission are every bit as newsworthy.
It recommends that all existing programs at the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as well as certain infrastructure programs of the Federal Railroad Administration, be repealed and replaced with ten new programs that would, in many instances, cut across modal and bureaucratic boundaries.
The ten programs would be a system maintenance and "state of good repair" program, a multi-modal national freight program, a congestion relief program for urban areas over one million in population, a consolidated safety program, a suburban and rural connectivity program, a high-speed passenger rail corridor development program, an environmental stewardship program, an alternative fuels development program, a federal lands program, and a research and development program.
The overarching consolidated safety program would subsume current FHWA, NHTSA and FMCSA efforts and would focus on driver-related programs (seat belts, helmets, DUI repeat offenders) as well as safety infrastructure. The report recommends a national goal of reducing annual traffic fatalities by 50% by 2025. The federal share of projects would be 90%. Strategies recommended that should be considered in state and local plans affecting motor carrier safety are:
- stronger enforcement of safety laws including speed limits, seat belt laws, impaired driving and using technology to do so
- enhanced adjudication of highway safety laws to impose penalties commensurate with the seriousness of the offenses
- enhanced motor carrier safety programs to reduce crashes caused by driver fatigue, unsafe operators, and automobile drivers who do not know how to share the road with large trucks
- highly visible public education campaigns to make everyone aware of the severity of highway safety problems
Buried in another section of the Report covering Congestion Pricing is a recommendation that an adjustment be made to hours-of-service regulations to take into consideration the need for rest breaks to accommodate congested metropolitan areas.
The federal funding for these new programs would be distributed in a very different manner than under existing programs. At present, the funding for these programs is based on a variety of statutory formulas such as how many lane-miles or miles-traveled or taxable gallons sold or transit riders in a given jurisdiction, divided by a national total. Also, under present law, Congress earmarks individual projects or DOT selects projects on its own criteria.
Under the Commission's plan, existing formulas would be abolished and funds for most programs would be distributed according to a need-based approach where each state or jurisdiction would receive its share of the "cost to complete" the projects necessary to fill those needs. This in effect establishes performance-based standards for each of the ten programs and establishes detailed ground-up state and regional project plans in cooperation with states and localities. Uniform performance and cost-benefit standards for all plans would be required since a consolidated national strategic plan would be the basis for apportioning funds.
The Commission proposes to put the coordination of the plans at arms length from both Congress and the Administration by outsourcing the oversight of this task to a new permanent National Surface Transportation commission (NASTRAC). The models for such a panel are the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and the Postal Rate Commission.
The details of just how this would affect existing FMCSA programs and the MCSAP and other state safety grant programs are not spelled out. About all that can be said is that it would be a "huge leap" from the motor carrier safety funding programs we have been used to ever since MCSAP was created in the 1982 highway reauthorization legislation. We don't know if ever or when any of these recommendations will actually see the light of day. But you will be hearing and learning much more about them in the days ahead. We have the same learning curve and will try to provide further understanding and insight the best we can.
CVSA's Reauthorization Committee Begins Job of Establishing Priorities
On January 7 and 8 of this new year, CVSA's Reauthorization Committee under the Chairmanship of Alan Martin (Ohio Public Utilities Commission) met in Washington, D.C. The first entire day was devoted to hearing from all of CVSA's safety and industry partners on what their reauthorization priorities are. Altogether the Committee heard from eleven different representatives.
The second day was devoted to discussing the top eleven reauthorization issues that have emerged from the recent membership survey which are:
- providing more flexibility in state grant programs
- establishing a more effective compliance review process
- minimizing or repeal exemptions from federal motor carrier safety regulations
- resolving the issue of lack of uniformity of regulations affecting inter and intrastate operations
- revising the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) formula
- determining a weight threshold for application of the FMCSRs
- making the new entrant program work better
- establishing a single point of carrier registration, credentialing and safety data access
- improving drug and alcohol programs
- improving outreach programs
- resolving the funding and jurisdictional issues relative to the truck size and weight program
Between now and CVSA's Spring Workshop in Denver in late March, the Committee will be working to further develop these issues and come up with specific recommendations to be incorporated in the upcoming reauthorization legislation.
Finally, just a very preliminary observation. The Reauthorization Committee's discussion about the need to provide more flexibility and a performance-based, cost-benefit driven approach to developing a state motor carrier safety enforcement plan seems to be in line with a major theme of the Surface Transportation Commission report discussed earlier in this article. Also, some of the safety strategies in the Commission report appear similar to some of the issues discussed by the Reauthorization Committee.