Hours-of-service proposal
Back to the drawing board?

Based on the opposition to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's proposed changes to current hours-of-service regulations and the current administration's expiring clock, truckers may not be throwing away old logbooks just yet. At a hearing June 22 by the U.S. House Ground Transportation Subcommittee, the FMCSA's acting deputy Clyde Hart said the changes would not be accomplished as soon as the agency hoped and when they were, they would be different from those proposed.Hart spent more than an hour fielding questions regarding the time table taking shape for new regs. Finally, he conceded that it is not a possibility to get the rule out by the end of the year. "We'd rather do it right than do it quickly," Hart said.Hart told attendees if the House of Representatives follows the Senate's lead in cutting off funding, it would freeze every aspect of the rulemaking. Even the public hearings would be stopped dead in their tracks, leaving the issue to be inherited by the next administration. The FMCSA, while conceding the need for fixes, remains adamant in its resolve to push the rulemaking to completion and strongly opposes any delay resulting from legislative action.Hart heard specific beefs from industry leaders at the hearing, including a description of economic hardships that would result from the changes. This message was conveyed by Todd Spencer, OOIDA's executive vice president, who voiced owner-operator's concerns on behalf of the association's membership. Lawmakers grilled Hart on numerous economic issues and wanted to know if those issues had been adequately examined. In nearly every instance, the answer was "no, but we will look into it."Spencer gave the subcommittee a message that is universal in the trucking industry - that the finished product had fallen far short of expectations and the agency needs to go back to the drawing board."The proposed hours of service in the current form will satisfy the needs of virtually no one involved with or dependent on truck transportation," Spencer testified.

Recent hearings have brought to light many shortfalls in the regs - so many, in fact, that the comment period is set to be extended until the end of October. Aside from the input flowing in from the national hearings, the FMCSA reports it is currently receiving more than 1,000 responses a day to the open rulemaking, mostly from truckers. And due to the number of apprehensive lawmakers on hand June 22 to ask questions, Spencer says the seriousness of this issue was hitting its mark with legislators.

"The message that was conveyed during the hearing couldn't have been clearer," Spencer reports. "This is a process that needs to be done very slowly and very carefully. It has to be right."-Sandi Soendker

Lawmakers attempt to kill HOS proposal

Meanwhile, legislation is afoot in Congress that would bring the hours-of-service proposal to a screeching halt. One way would be to withhold funding. Another angle would be to simply vote to squelch the proposal in its present form.

One, by withholding funding

To proceed with the proposal, the FMCSA will need money. That money comes from the budget. FY2001 transportation appropriations legislation has already been passed by the full House of Representatives and the full Senate. Prior to Senate passage, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) inserted language that would cut funding for the FMSCA's effort to their proposal to change the hours-of-service regs until October 2001. Because of differences in the two appropriation bills, the House and Senate will have to conference to hash them out. The final bill then goes on to the Oval Office for the president's signature or in fact, his veto.

Two, by outright quash of the proposal 

Meanwhile, a squelch effort has been launched by Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE) that is picking up steam. Terry's bill (HR4511) seeks to prevent the FMCSA from instituting the new hours of service regs as proposed. It does not ask to postpone or cut funding for a year, but simply wants it killed. HR4511 has been referred to the transportation committee and as of June 28, there's been no mark up action.Terry says the proposed rule will "turn the entire American economy upside-down not to mention the downstream effects it will have on other industries that rely on trucks." HR4511 would force the effort back to the drawing board to start from scratch. The Terry bill would require the FMCSA to draft a new proposed hours of service regulation, hopefully using the comments obtained from ongoing field hearings being conduced by the DOT. As of July 13, the bill had accumulated 44 co-sponsors.On the Senate side, the exact same wording of the Terry bill was introduced by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). S. 2716 was introduced on June 13. The bill has been referred to the commerce committee.

If the Terry and Campbell bills survive their respective committee markups, they'll be sent to the floor for a vote. At any time during this process amendments may be offered that could change the base text of the bill. Should this happen, a conference between the House and Senate would be required before final consideration.

While this may take time, sponsors of these bills have an ace in the hole. If the Shelby language is included in the conference report and becomes law, the sponsoring lawmakers of the "squelch" bills earn another 12 months to gather support.

-Sandi Soendker