By Max Fisher, Vice President of Economics and Government Relations; and Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
House Democrats this week merged their nearly $500 billion highway bill into a larger infrastructure package (H.R. 2, The Moving Forward Act) that includes $1.5 trillion in funding for the nation’s roads, bridges, transit, rail, schools, housing, broadband, drinking and wastewater systems, postal service, clean energy sector, and health care infrastructure.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee already had approved the $494 billion highway bill, the INVEST in America Act, during a June 18 markup. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced its $287 billion version of the highway bill in July 2019.
Funding for the current highway bill expires on Sept. 30.
The House Rules Committee has indicated it plans to meet the week of June 29 to approve a rule that may provide a structured amendment process for floor consideration of H.R. 2, with a potential vote on the House floor prior to the July 4 congressional recess.
Over the next few months, House and Senate lawmakers will need to conference their respective bills to resolve differences, or extend the current authorization. Either way, additional federal funding will be needed – through borrowing from the U.S. Treasury, increasing fees/taxes or redirecting federal funds.
The House’s INVEST in America Act includes provisions that would directly affect agricultural transportation, whereas the Senate bill does not contain major changes. Below are summaries of provisions from the House highway bill important for agriculture:
- Authorizes a 10 percent weight tolerance per axle or axle group for dry bulk loads that are prone to shift during transport.
- Increases minimum financial responsibility requirements per truck from $750,000 to $2 million. Annual insurance premiums per truck are approximately $4,000 at the current minimum financial responsibility level of $750,000. It is unknown how much the premiums would rise to cover a $2 million financial responsibility level, but the increase most likely would be passed on through higher trucking freight rates.
- Orders the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to reapprove the safety of exemptions to the hours-of-service rules (presumably the intent behind this provision is to eliminate or scale back the use of exemptions). The primary exemptions utilized for agricultural transportation are the agricultural exception and the short-haul exemption.
- Orders FMCSA to perform more studies on the safety impacts of the new hours-of-service regulation before it can take effect.
- Commands FMCSA to regulate driver detention time. The new regulation would establish limits on the amount of time a truck driver may be reasonably detained by a shipper or receiver before the loading or unloading the truck, if the driver is not compensated for such time detained.
- Requires FMCSA to require sleep apnea screening for truck drivers.
- Instructs the FMCSA to revise the methodology for issuance of motor carrier safety fitness determinations.
- Includes $350 million per year for electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling stations. The installation of biofuels blender pumps would not be eligible for the subsidy.