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Important legislation in limbo as DOT funding bill stalls

Unusually early action on the fiscal 2017 Department of Transportation appropriations bill has given way to indefinite delay as the U.S. House of Representatives still has not considered its version of the bill (H.R. 5394) or scheduled a certain date for taking it up. The House Appropriations Committee approved the bill on May 24, including measures that would:

  • Fix the glitch in last year's funding bill regarding the hours-of-service 34-hour restart by eliminating the requirement that restarts include two consecutive 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. periods and that the restart be used only once in a consecutive 168-hour period (Section 132);

  • Prohibit states from regulating commercial driver's meal and rest breaks, retroactive to the enactment of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (Section 134);

  • Block FMCSA from revising its rules for establishing carrier safety fitness determinations until the DOT Inspector General certifies that the agency's corrective action plan in response to a study of the Safety Measurement System (SMS) implements the recommendations of that study (Section 135); and

  • Prohibits funds from being used for a wireless roadside inspection program unless certain conditions are met (Section 133)

On May 19, the full U.S. Senate passed DOT appropriations as part of a broader bill (H.R. 2577), but non-transportation elements of that legislation have since been split off and considered separately. So final action on the DOT funding bill awaits House action.

Like the House bill, the Senate version of the DOT funding bill would bar FMCSA from enforcing its regulations requiring that the 34-hour HOS restart include two consecutive 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. periods and that the restart be used only once in a consecutive 168-hour period. However, the Senate provision also limits a driver using a restart to no more than 73 hours of work in seven days. The Senate bill also would require a final rule within six months of final passage that mandates speed limiting devices on heavy trucks. A draft proposed rule by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than a year.

Congress eventually must resolve differences over DOT funding, although it is possible that fiscal 2017 appropriations bill will not be finalized until a “lame duck” session after the November election.

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