Important Issues Deferred to November Lame-duck Session
On September 30, the 109th Congress recessed until after the November elections. They will reconvene November 13 in a lame-duck session to take up unfinished business which consists of most of the FY 2007 appropriations bills including one that funds DOT (FMCSA) programs.
Before recessing, they passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) funding all government agencies and departments (except Defense and Homeland Security) at FY 2006 levels until November 17. The length of the lame-duck session and how quickly it will deal with the appropriations bills depends on which party controls the Senate or the House. If party control changes in either chamber (to the Democrats), then all bets are off as to what will pass and when. Action on the appropriations bills might then be deferred to the new 110th Congress that convenes this coming January. At this point, the chances of the House changing hands seems more of a possibility than the Senate.
This scenario also affects the disposition of issues important to CVSA members. It means that the MCSAP and other state safety grant programs will be funded at 2006 levels on an incremental basis (13.l5% of the 2006 annual funding level) through November 17th. It also means that it may not be until November, at the earliest, before SSRS states will know if the repeal of SSRS along with the effective date of the new UCR have been delayed for another 12 months until January 1, 2008. Efforts on the part of CVSA, the National Association of Regulatory and Utility Commissioners and AAMVA to get extension language in the Senate 2007 DOT appropriations bill were successful. Efforts are now underway to ensure that the House Appropriations Committee agrees to the Senate language in a Conference on the appropriations legislation.
Another possible, but less certain, legislative route to obtain the SSRS extension exists with the SAFETEA-LU corrections bill. It has passed the House, but did not clear the Senate before the recess. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee added SSRS extension language to this bill during the pre-conferencing process with the Senate. However, a provision was also added to the bill that would have allowed those states that levy a ton-mile tax on trucks to verify payment of such taxes with a windshield sticker. This would add one more exemption to a provision in SAFETEA-LU that along with creating the new UCR otherwise precludes windshield verification stickers except for one indicating participation in the UCR itself. The corrections bill was not voted on before the recess due to objections by the Senate Banking and Currency Committee over mass transit issues. Should these transit issues be resolved and the bill is considered again in the lame-duck session with the ton-mile tax sticker provision in it, this may be of concern to the trucking industry. Other possible last minute objections to the bill could also jeopardize chances of this bill passing the Senate. It takes the objection of only one Senator to prevent the bill from being considered on the Senate floor under unanimous consent.
Finally, Congress did pass the “Safe Port Act” before recessing that contained measures affecting truck safety and security supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Truckers Association (OOIDA). One dealt with the implementation of DOT Inspector General recommendations on legal status verification for licensed U.S. commercial drivers and on state implementation of drivers license anti-fraud programs. The DOT Inspector General has recommended that all CDL applicants demonstrate that they are either a U.S. citizen, a permanent legal resident (have a green card), or otherwise be legally present in the United States (have the appropriate visa or work permit). There was also a provision requiring DHS and DOT to draft guidelines for enforcement on how to identify non-compliance with Federal laws for trucks engaged in cross-border traffic and one requiring the FMCSA Administrator to modify their final rule regarding the enforcement of operating authority that would establish a process by which a carrier’s operating authority can be verified during a roadside inspection.
Missouri Congressional Roundtable
In other news, CVSA member Ben Goodin, Motor Carrier Enforcement Administrator for Missouri’s DOT, participated in a Congressional Roundtable on trucking regulation and homeland security held on October 3rd in Grain Valley, Missouri at the headquarters of OOIDA. It was sponsored by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Rural Enterprises, Agriculture and Technology. Congressman Sam Graves (6th-MO), Chairman of the Subcommittee, presided over the session. Among issues highlighted in Goodin’s presentation was necessary preparation to meet the challenge of the arrival of foreign-domiciled carriers in Missouri. Bill Quade, FMCSA, also participated and discussed FMCSA’s preparation to ensure the safety and compliance of Mexican trucks. Our congratulations to Congressman Graves, OOIDA and all of the participants in the Roundtable.
FMCSA Administrator Addresses Washington Transportation Group
FMCSA Administrator, John Hill, recently addressed a Washington transportation group, the Road Gang. He addressed FMCSA priorities for the next two years that included a more timely rulemaking process to address directives in SAFETEA-LU legislation with rules on electronic-on-board-recorders and carrier record keeping requirements due out shortly. Other priorities included establishing criteria for states that take advantage of a new SAFETEA-LU provision allowing states to use a percentage of their MCSAP funds for traffic enforcement; developing a driver data information resource making it easier to track drivers separately from carrier tracking; participating in a DOT department-wide traffic congestion mitigation effort; participating in a DOT “speed group” consisting of NHTSA, FHWA and FMCSA to address the issue of truck speeds; harmonizing the carrier rating process between the U.S. and Canada; working with Mexico to address the U.S. requirement of on-site carrier audits in Mexico; and maximizing the use to technology to improve motor carrier safety. Administrator Hill pointed out that a key component in the use of technology is better driver training for such systems as stability control, forward collision warning and cruise control.
Throughout his presentation, Hill stressed the importance of working closely with their state partners through CVSA in achieving the agency’s priorities.