Lawmakers in the U.S. House on Wednesday introduced a five-year highway bill that, as headlines have splashed in recent days, would force the U.S. DOT to pause its just-finalized rule to overhaul federal hours of service regulations.
The Invest in America Act, if passed, would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to delay the rule’s Sept. 29 effective date while it undertakes studies and reviews that would take months, if not years, to complete.
The prospect of Congress snapping its fingers and toppling two years of regulatory work by FMCSA, and the years of work by truckers and other stakeholders that it took to achieve those hours-of-service reforms, is likely frustrating and angering for many in the industry, especially owner-operators who’ve long claimed the current HOS regs are too rigid.
However, despite that rightful cause for concern, the odds that the Invest in America bill will affect the new hours rule are slim, at best.
For starters, the bill would need to move at a rapid pace to catch the hours of service reforms taking effect Sept. 29. The current highway funding law, the FAST Act, expires Sept. 30.
Given the pace at which Congress usually moves on such legislation, and the already toxic political climate in Washington, it’s almost assured that lawmakers would need to pass several short-term extensions of the FAST Act before they can agree on a law to replace it. That pushes any replacement well into 2021.
By that point, the hours of service reforms will have been in place for months, and the impracticality of changing them will be glaring.
To become law by Oct. 1, the Invest in America bill will need to clear several major hurdles — and with speed. It could make it out of the U.S. House by that point, though even in Congress’ lower chamber the bill faces committee debates and votes, before it moves to the House floor. The bill is subject to change throughout that process.
Likewise, even if passed by the House, it likely will be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate has already floated a markedly different successor to the current FAST Act highway law.
If the House and Senate pass their own highway bill, the two chambers would need to work out a unified bill and get it passed again in both chambers.
The chance that all of that can take place before the end of September is, well, minute, at best. And throughout the process, trucking lobbyists and advocates, and maybe even representatives from FMCSA, will likely try to change lawmakers’ minds on the issue.