Congress Weighs Continuing Resolution

The House has approved a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government until April 28, 2017. However, negotiations over health benefits for coal miners in the Senate is threatening a partial government shutdown as funding must be approved by midnight tonight (Dec. 9).

The bill is funded at FY2016 funding levels, despite a request from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) asking appropriators to align the FY2017 appropriations structure and spending levels with the new FMCSA grant structure arising from the FAST Act. Without changes to the current language, the agency will be unable to realize the increase in funding levels for MCSAP implemented in the FAST Act. There may be an opportunity to have the funding adjustment made in the next appropriations measure, if lawmakers are willing to include it.

In addition, the bill also resolves the ongoing hours-of-service drafting error issue created in last year’s appropriations bill, which threatened the use of a 34-hour restart by truck drivers. In 2014, Congress suspended hours-of-service (HOS) rules finalized in 2013 which required that a 34-hour restart contain two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. breaks and a once per week limit or 168-hour period to the restart’s use. This suspension was to remain in effect until FMCSA completed a study on drivers operating under both pre-and post-2013 rules to determine which set of rules were safer. However, a provision in the FY2016 appropriations bill which added requirements to the FMCSA study did not indicate what rule would apply should the criteria in the study not be met, possibly indicating that HOS rules from more than a decade ago would be back in effect. The language in the CR clarifies that pre-2013 HOS rules remain in effect if the study does not meet the conditions set by Congress. The FY2017 language also institutes a 73-hour cap on the amount of time that drivers can spend on-duty in a consecutive seven-day period if using a 34-hour restart.