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House Passes Transportation Funding Bill for Fiscal Year 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (“THUD”) funding bill for the fiscal year 2019. This appropriations bill funds the Department of Transportation and related agencies, among other federal departments. As with many of these large appropriation bills, numerous “riders,” or additional, small provisions attached to larger bills, made it through the committee stage. Several riders relate to the trucking industry in particular.

One issue is with respect to livestock and insect haulers. They will get an extension on their currently-existing exemption from the Electronic Logging Device (“ELD”) mandate. The exemption, which was set to end on September 30, will now extend until October 2019. Essentially, this industry subgroup now has one additional year to come into compliance with the recently-passed ELD mandate before facing enforcement of the regulations.

This bill also included a version of what is known in transportation circles as the Denham Amendment. This provision of the bill seeks to exempt carriers from any state-level laws that require them to provide drivers with meal and rest breaks beyond those required by federal hours of service regulations. Specifically, the language bars states from passing laws prohibiting truckers “from working to the full extent permitted” by federal hours of service rules or “imposing any additional obligations on motor carriers if such employees work to the full extent” of their hours of service. According to the bill summary released by the House Appropriations Committee, the goal is to “facilitate interstate commerce by affirming a uniform hours of service rule.”

This language addresses states like California, that currently have laws giving truckers paid meal and rest breaks. California currently gives transportation employees a 30-minute break every five hours of work and a 10-minute rest break every four hours. These are paid breaks which would now be eliminated. As with many issues, the American Trucking Association favors this provision while the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) opposes taking the power away from state governments. Proponents of the Denham Amendment say it is necessary to prevent the steady flow of lawsuits being brought against carriers by drivers. It also necessary to prevent carriers from having to adapt to different laws in different states regarding required breaks for drivers.

The appropriations bill also approved a study on so-called twin-33 trailers. The DOT will be required to report to Congress on the pros and cons of allowing 33-foot twin trailers. Under current federal law, twin trailers are limited to 28 feet. Lastly, the bill includes $71.8 billion in discretionary spending to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

It is worth noting, however, that this is just the House bill. The Senate could pass this bill as it is, or, as is more likely, pass its own transportation appropriations bill. Any differences between the House and Senate bill would then have to be ironed out by representatives of both Houses. While it is not final, it is helpful to see what approach the federal government is taking on some important issues affecting the trucking industry.

If have any questions, please contact Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) or Justin Thatch (jthatch@setlifflaw.com) at (804) 377-1260.