Opening in doubt

Legislation could delay cross-border program
Two pieces of legislation introduced in the U.S. House on March 29 could delay the Bush administration’s plan to lift a longstanding ban on Mexican truck travel throughout the United States.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., an opponent of the plan, introduced one of the bills, which would allow police to gain access to the same kind of criminal background information on Mexican truckers as they can pull up on American drivers.

For her part, U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to seek public comment on the pilot program before it is launched and would limit the program to one year.

Boyda’s bill has the support of U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chair of the House Transportation Committee. Oberstar is not supporting Hunter’s bill, however, and has not said whether he will allow it a hearing in committee.

Hunter, a conservative running for president in 2008, said his bill would require Mexican truckers to meet the same standards as American truckers. One of the most important provisions, he said, would require the federal government to certify that when a Mexican trucker is pulled over, police could pull up the same kind of background information on the Mexican driver as they could on an American driver. Hunter said that should include criminal violations such as drug convictions.

He said the database used by Mexican authorities to verify a driver’s identification, driving record and criminal history should be equivalent to that used in the United States. Currently, U.S. law requires no criminal background check for U.S. truck drivers unless they want to be certified to haul hazardous materials.

The Bush administration had wanted to launch the pilot program by the end of April, allowing 100 Mexican trucking companies to haul cargo throughout the United States. Current rules allow Mexican truck drivers to go no farther than 25 miles inside the country. The pilot program could lead to a complete lifting of the ban. The Bush administration insists it has put in place sufficient safeguards for the pilot program.

In a statement in reaction to Hunter’s bill, DOT said the program “will bring real benefits and real dollars to the American economy while maintaining all U.S. safety and security standards.”

On March 22, a U.S. Senate committee approved an amendment that would demand all congressional mandates be met and simultaneous access for American trucks be granted before proceeding with a pilot program to allow Mexican trucks to deliver in the United States.
The appropriations committee approved the amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill providing emergency spending by voice vote.

The amendment would make the program “subject to an open transparent process that will include public comment, quantifiable means of success and require that safety be enhanced,” according to a committee summary of the bill.

Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Dianne Feinstein of California and Patty Murray of Washington sponsored the amendment.

Feinstein noted in a statement that under the current proposal, American trucks would not be granted full access to Mexican highways for approximately six months, while the Mexican government gathers information and determines which American companies will be granted access to Mexico.

The move prompted a March 8 Senate transportation subcommittee hearing about safety concerns. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters testified that all congressional mandates had been met, while DOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III reported that FMCSA still lacked full compliance.

Public Citizen has sued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on behalf of a highway safety organization to compel the agency to release information about the program.

The nonprofit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety filed a Freedom of Information Act request with FMCSA in October for information about activities surrounding any program to evaluate Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the border zone. No details about the methodology for evaluating the project or its criteria have been revealed, Public Citizen said.
– Jill Dunn


Florida Senate Considers Leasing Toll Roads
The Florida Senate is considering a House-approved bill that would let private companies lease the state’s toll roads and bridges, but not the turnpike.

The Republican-backed bill, HB7033, passed along party lines in the House by a 74-40 vote March 22 after being introduced March 19. The leases would last 50 to 75 years, and companies would pay the state an up-front fee.

“It is the intent of the Legislature to strengthen the state’s transportation system by providing the department with innovative financing techniques, including, but not limited to, public-private partnerships, toll facility leases and user fees,” the legislation reads.

A House analysis notes that the transportation department’s long-range plan calls for an investment of $117 billion in transportation improvements through fiscal year 2025, despite a funding shortfall of $53 billion on the Strategic Intermodal System alone.

More fuel-efficient vehicles on the road will hurt federal and state revenues from fuel taxes, which are the major source of transportation funding, the analysis noted.

The measure provides for toll rates tied to inflation, but also allows for increases beyond that. “Toll rates may be increased beyond these limits as directed by bond documents, covenants or governing body authorization or pursuant to department administrative rule,” the bill states.

Toll rate changes could be made no more frequently than once a year but no less frequently than once every five years, the bill says.

The bill also provides incentives for private companies to build new toll roads.
If the bill becomes law it would be effective in July.
– Jill Dunn


Bill Would Cap Hazmat Endorsement at $50
U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., has introduced H.R. 1079, the Professional Driver Background Check Efficiency Act, which would put a $50 cap on the cost of the hazardous material endorsement to truckers.

The cost of the current endorsement varies but is typically $94 per driver.

H.R. 1079 also would allow the federal Transportation Security Agency to reimburse states for the costs of hazmat background checks, a requirement that Carnahan calls an unfunded mandate.

Two background-check provisions introduced by Carnahan in the previous Congress were signed into law as part of the SAFE Port Act. The provisions say that drivers who have already passed a hazmat background check need no additional check for port clearance; and that the Government Accountability Office should report to Congress on any duplication of federal background checks and make recommendations to increase efficiency.

“This is a classic example of unnecessary government redundancy,” Carnahan said. “I am proud that two provisions of my previous bill have been signed into law, and I look forward to passing this bill to make government more efficient and reduce the financial burden placed on professional drivers.”
– From Staff Reports


Truckin’ to the White House?
Trucker Karl Krueger is running for president. And, yes, he knows it’s an uphill battle.

A truck driver as president? Karl Krueger, a union driver for Yellow Freight, is trying his best to make it happen. The Sioux Falls, S.D., resident officially announced his bid at March’s Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville.

But the self-described conservative Democrat is not delusional. With his public unfamiliarity and a hard-line stance against individual campaign donations of more than $50, Krueger knows he won’t outpace what he calls the “CEO bunch” – (Hillary) Clinton, (John) Edwards and (Barack) Obama. He says presidential elections are decided by money and media, not voters. “America has already been told who to vote for,” he says. “I’m doing the American thing and trying to change that.”

Krueger is dedicated to eliminating America’s use of foreign oil and pushing alternative fuels – batteries, ethanol and biodiesel – to the forefront of American transport. He says the war in Iraq, plus political squabbles with Iran and Venezuela, are “symptoms of a problem – America’s reliance on foreign oil.”

Krueger filed papers with the Federal Election Commission last September. According to a late March report from the FEC, roughly 130 people were running for president. The 2004 campaign brought out 216 total candidates, 37 of whom raised $5,000, the required “definition of a federal candidate,” according to a FEC spokesman. Krueger says he will meet that. With his $50 limit, Krueger won’t have to list individual names with election regulators. Nevertheless, he’s keeping a database in case someone does give more. “If I receive more than $50, I send it back,” Krueger says.

Krueger’s ambitions may raise eyebrows. If you watch Fox and CNN, you won’t find his name sprinkled among the major contenders, his “CEO Bunch.” That’s because he hasn’t talked to the major media outlets. Instead, he has pitched his platform to small-town Midwest newspapers. Yet Krueger is no stranger to politics: he ran a failed U.S. Senate bid in South Dakota more than 10 years ago, and he met Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the elder George Bush during his career with the U.S. military.

What follows are excerpts from his interview with Truckers News:

On what drove his decision to run: “I reached the realization that out of all the people running for president, not one of them was able to define the problem, the real major problem with this country. They all talk about Iraq, and they all talk about Iran, and they talk about Venezuela. [The candidates] talk about the fluctuating economy and our problems with fuel prices. But those are just symptoms of the major problem – we’re just dependent on foreign oil.”

On alternative energy: “Shifting to alternative energy is in our best interest. It’s going to be costly, but it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the long-term industry and it’s good for the environment, too. Right now I’m looking at electricity. It’s a fast fix. We generate enough electricity off peak to meet all our transportation needs in this country, and we’re not even close to becoming efficient in our battery technology.”

On meeting his first president: “I happened to meet John Kennedy when I was 13 and he first ran for president [in 1960]. I sold him a World’s Famous Chocolate bar. We were selling these candy bars to raise money for school band uniforms

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