HireRight’s third quarterly podcast takes a look at the status of the Highway Trust Fund and the Highway Reauthorization Bill that is currently before the U.S. Congress.
Dave Osiecki, Executive Vice President and Chief of National Advocacy at the American Trucking Associations provides a brief overview of the critical policy issues in both the Senate and House Highway Bills, important legislative initiatives included in the Appropriations Bill, and what needs to happen to gain funding for our highway networks.
HireRight & ATA Quarterly Podcast
By Dave Osiecki, Executive Vice President and Chief of National Advocacy for the ATA
Length: 8:17[audio:https://admin.hireright.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/ATA-podcast-highway-transportation-bill.mp3 |titles=Highway Trust Fund and Highway Reauthorization Bill Update
So this issue is very important to ATA and its members and the trucking industry at large. Not only because the bill provides for programs and policies that the industry and the states need, but more importantly, it funds our highway network, which consists of roads and bridges, for building it out and maintaining the system. So that really brings us up-to-date on the history and its importance.
Now let’s turn briefly to its status. The most recent extension which was passed in July of 2015 expires this month, the end of October. Congress does not have a lot of legislative days left to act on this issue, but the good news is that they have made some progress. The Senate in early August passed its Highway Bill and it’s called the Drive Act, some of you may have read that in the trade press. It has a whole host of policy related issues. The Senate bill is a six year bill, but it has three years of funding which is a bit of an odd duck. But the reality is that it does have a number of ways to fund the program going forward for at least three years, so that’s the good news.
The better news for ATA and its members as well as the broader trucking industry is that the Senate bill has a number of good policy initiatives in it that we’ve been advocating for. One is a program to really help the driver shortage that persists in the industry today. That’s a program that is geared towards getting younger drivers into this industry in a safe and responsible way, almost like graduated licensing, so there is some good language in the Senate bill on that. There is language to improve the CSA program, which is something that we have been working with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on for a number of years now, but they need a little bit of a push in our view. So, it does include some good CSA language that will result in CSA improvements.
There is also language on hair testing. Some of you know that ATA and a number of its members have been really pushing for hair tests and hair samples as an alternative to the DOT urine testing base program and we have good language in the Senate bill on that.
There are also a couple of more things that I will highlight. One is the freight program. Until MAP 21 a couple of years ago, this country did not have strategic freight plan. A plan at the federal level to figure out how to address the freight movement needs going forward, not just on the highway system but multi-modally through our country. So there is pretty good language on a freight program in the Senate bill. The last thing that I will highlight is that there was an attempt to include some language to extend the length of trailers, the twin 20 foot trailers that is not in the Senate bill today, but it is in a different bill, in an appropriations bill that we can talk about later. So those are some of the policy issues in the Senate bill.
The U.S. House of Representatives has not yet acted on its version of the Highway Bill. Of course, going back to civics class, the Senate has to pass a bill, the House has to pass a bill and then the differences between those two bills are what is called “conferenced”. They go through a conference committee and then when it comes out of the conference committee, it is ultimately passed by both Chambers again and then goes to the President for signature.
So the Senate has passed their bill called the Drive Act, as already indicated. The House is on the verge of introducing their bill and then they go through the legislative process this fall of marking it up, debating it, and hopefully passing it. All of this could happen before the end of October, but the key thing is while these policies are important, the key decision that Congress has to make is how they will fund this program going forward. That’s the tough decision that the Senate had to make a couple of months ago with their Drive Act. And it’s a decision that the House has not yet made and it remains to be seen if they will make that this fall. We certainly hope they do since this issue, the funding of our network, the highway network, the bridges and the maintenance of the program, as was well as these policy issues that I described and a few others are critically important to this industry because the highway network and highway system is where drivers in this industry really does its job moving America’s freight.
So that’s a little bit about the history, the reauthorization process, where it is in process and our hope that Congress does make the tough decision this fall to fund the program, to have a long-term bill (long term in our view is either five or six years). This is certainly what we are hoping for and have been advocating for. No matter when Congress makes that tough decision on the funding, the policies that I discussed, those and others, we’ve done a lot of leg work to get them into the underlying bills and we feel pretty good about the opportunity to get them passed as well.
Earlier, I referenced the twin 33 issues in the context of another bill and I’d like to close that loop. The ability to lengthen trailers, we looked at it from a Highway Bill standpoint, ultimately we advocated for some change to the length of trailers, twin 28’s and twin 33’s in the Appropriations Bill which is called the Transportation Housing and Urban Development Bill. We are pleased to say that the language which would authorize longer twin trailers is in both the House and the Senate bills and there is an opportunity for those bills to be conferenced and get passed later this year as well.
The last thing that I didn’t mention was hours-of-service. We have good, positive hours-of-service language in both the House and Senate Transportation Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill. So that is another opportunity should that bill clear Congress and get signed by the President later this year.
So that’s a quick wrap on the reauthorization process, a little bit about the Appropriations Bill that we have some good language in and I’d like to thank you for listening to the ATA quarterly podcast in conjunction with HireRight. Thank you very much.
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