House withdraws highway bill amendment that sought to fix damaging measure for independent truckers

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Update: The House has passed the six-year highway funding bill referenced in this article. Click here for more.

A fix to a measure in the House’s long-term highway bill, which as-is could be harmful to independent truckers and small trucking companies, was pulled from the House floor late Wednesday afternoon.

After offering an amendment on the matter to the House’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) withdrew his change to the highway bill before lawmakers could vote on whether to attach it the bill.

Duncan’s amendment would have clarified the portion of the bill that sets “interim hiring standards” for carriers, coming in part due to Congress’ attempts in this legislation and other bills to strip data and carrier rankings in the DOT’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability system from public view.

The bill puts in place three criteria brokers and shippers should use when making determinations in hiring a motor carrier. One of the criterium, however, would exclude nearly half a million trucking companies, a large chunk of which are independent owner-operators and other small carriers. Duncan’s amendment sought to fix the exclusionary language.

The change, however, could still be added later in the legislative process, like when the House and Senate confer on their two similar — but in whole, quite different — long-term highway funding acts.

The House is in the midst this week of hearing and voting on nearly 300 amendments to its STRR bill. House leaders have said they hope to finish the amendment process by week’s end.

Other trucking-related amendments defeated in the House include one to strip the bill of its measures to allow states to set up pilot programs for 19-21 year-old CDL holders to operate across state lines and one that would have stripped the bill of requirements that FMCSA further study current levels of liability insurance required of motor carriers prior to producing a rule to raise the minimums.

Both of those amendments, however, failed, so they bill retains the under-21 CDL holder program and the extra roadblock for FMCSA in producing a potential insurance rule.

Lawmakers in the House, however, voted to add an amendment to the legislation that fights a 2014 federal court decision. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, per Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who brought the amendment, misinterpreted the 1994 Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act when it decided that California truckers were entitled to rest and meal breaks, per California law. Denham said the decision conflicted with the FAAAA in that it could affect “prices, routes and services” of carriers, which the law forbids. His amendment restates and clarifies Congressional intent, Denham says, of the 1994 law.

The amendment originally failed by a voice vote, but when brought up again later for a recorded vote, it passed 248-180.

The bill could, potentially, have an impact on driver pay. Check Overdrive’s coverage of the amendment from earlier this week for more on its potential impact.

The House also defeated Tuesday an amendment that would have allowed states to increase truck weight limits to 91,000 pounds within their borders.