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US Senate Steers Clear Of Meal And Rest-Break Changes

FreightWaves

U.S. Senate lawmakers chose not to follow their colleagues in the U.S. House who had sought to bar federal regulators from pre-empting states that choose to enforce stricter meal and rest-break laws.

An appropriations package passed by the Republican-controlled Senate on October 31 did not include the meal and rest-break provision that had been part of the House version of the legislation that was passed in May. The legislation, part of a "minibus" spending bill that includes funding for agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2020, also left out provisions addressing hours-of-service (HOS) and crash safety scores, which the Democrat-controlled House had been looking to include as well.

In addition to federal preemption of state meal and rest break laws – which is currently under review in a federal appeals court in California – the House version of the spending bill would have barred the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from eliminating the 30-minute rest break in federal HOS regulations. FMCSA is considering whether to modify the 30-minute rest break as part of the pending HOS proposed rulemaking rolled out in August.

The American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Transportation Intermediaries Association were successful in keeping out of the Senate bill a provision – also sought by House appropriators – to make public crash safety scores compiled by the FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. The scores are used by the FMCSA to identify trucking companies for roadside inspections and other compliance actions.

The Senate bill did include three provisions that were in the House version considered to be "non-controversial" by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. They included requirements to continue exempting agriculture haulers of livestock and insects from the electronic logging device mandate, annual inspections of truck rear underride guards, and notifying drivers and carriers of federal safety violations by certified or registered mail.

Other agencies within DOT affected by the spending package, on which the Senate and House will work to negotiate a compromise in the coming weeks, include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd).

The American Association of Port Authorities said it would "fight hard" to increase the $91.6 million the Senate set aside for MarAd's Port Infrastructure Development Program, a significant cut from the $293 million funding level for the program last year when the program was initiated. The House previously approved $225 million in FY 2020 funding for the program.

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