Democrats Pass Highway Bill in Committee- Pelosi Plans to Combine Infrastructure Package with Highway Bill
Last night, June 18, 2020, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee passed its 5-year reauthorization of the surface transportation program the INVEST in America Act, H.R. 2, by voice vote.
Despite passing by voice vote, the bill was deeply partisan and did not receive Republican support or input, which is unusual because highway reauthorization bills traditionally tend to be one of the more bipartisan processes in Congress. The bill authorizes $494 billion to be spent on highways, transit, rail, and vehicle safety programs. Additionally, the bill dramatically increases spending towards fighting climate change.
Of particular interest to TRALA are provisions related to a Truck Leasing Task Force, a dramatic increase in the Minimum Financial Responsibility for commercial vehicles, a strengthening of rear impact guards on trailers, and a new mandate for Automatic Emergency Braking Systems.
Section 4305, the Truck Leasing Task Force, creates a task force made up of equal representatives of labor unions, motor carriers (including owner-operators), consumer groups, safety groups, and trial lawyers. The task force is asked to examine common truck leasing arrangements available to commercial drivers including lease-purchase agreements, the terms of these lease agreements, and the prevalence of predatory leasing agreements in the motor carrier industry. The task force is also asked to provide best practices for assisting a commercial driver in assessing the impacts of leasing agreements prior to entering into agreements, assisting a commercial driver who has entered into a predatory lease, and recommendations on changes to laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local level to promote fair leasing agreements under which a commercial driver can earn a “living wage”.
This truck leasing task force idea was originally proposed by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) as a section of her Port Drivers' Bill of Rights bill but in this new piece of legislation it appears to be expanded beyond port drivers. TRALA has serious concerns about a task force on leasing that will be dominated by attorneys, consumer advocates and union leaders as it appears to TRALA that this is an obvious attempt to either force drivers to unionize or to make sure the trial lawyers have plenty of ammunition to use against truck companies, or both. Amendments to this section were not considered as the section has received strong support by Democrats including the Chairman of the House T&I Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) who was a cosponsor of the original Port Drivers Bill of Rights bill.
During consideration of H.R. 2, an amendment was offered by Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) which would increase the minimum insurance held by commercial motor vehicles from $750,000 to $2 million. Additionally, the amendment calls for the Secretary of Transportation to consult with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust the insurance rate for inflation every 5 years. The amendment received significant push back but none of those efforts were successful. The Garcia amendment passed 37-27 and was incorporated into the bill. TRALA has pushed back on similar efforts to dramatically increase insurance in previous surface transportation reauthorizations and is already working with other industry stakeholders to push back on this provision. Simply put, current insurance limits cover over 99% of all accidents in the U.S. each year and this provision is a blatant giveaway to the trial lawyers.
In addition, Section 4404 calls for the Secretary of Transportation to propose a rule amending the motor vehicle safety standard to mandate the equipping of Automatic Emergency Brakes (AEB) to all commercial motor vehicles manufactured after the effective date of the final rule. Additionally, the section calls for the rule to establish performance standards for AEB systems including operation of such systems. Finally, the section requires the Secretary to conduct a review of current AEB systems currently in use and identify any potential deficiencies with the current systems in the rule making and to determine whether deficiencies can be fixed with a software update.
Lastly, the bill included Section 4405 regarding rear guards and side underride guards on trailers and semitrailers. The bill included a mandate for the Secretary of Transportation to issue a rule to strengthen rear guards. Specifically, the rule would require new trailers and semitrailers to be equipped with rear impact guards designed to prevent intrusion of the compartment from a passenger vehicle travelling 35 miles per hour. Additionally, the section calls for additional research to be done on side underride guards, and the feasibility, costs, and benefits of installing side underride guards on newly manufactured trailers and semitrailers over 10,000 lbs. TRALA has been working with a group of stakeholders to push back on any attempt to mandate side underride guards on trailers and semitrailers for the past few years.
Earlier today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. It is the strategy of House Democrats to combine this plan known as the Moving Forward Act with the just passed H.R. 2 highway bill, with additional funding for housing, clean water, broadband, hospitals, the U.S. postal service, schools, and clean energy projects. Furthermore, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal (D-MA) indicated that the House would pay for the Moving Forward Act through a combination of government backed bonds, Private Activity Bonds, and some “borrowing.”
In her announcement, Speaker Pelosi indicated that the House plans to move the Moving Forward Act prior to the July 4 recess. The inclusion of the INVEST in America Act into the larger Moving Forward Act means that the highway bill will likely pass the House soon and Democrats may try to include negotiations the House has with the Senate and White House on a final coronavirus relief package into one enormous “must-pass” bill to try and force Republicans to agree to the overall bill.
President Trump has been calling for a $1 trillion infrastructure package investing in roads and bridges, as well as rural broadband, and a 5G internet network and possibly combining those efforts with a next round of coronavirus legislation. Senate Republicans have pushed back on the White House's push for another infrastructure bill, claiming that infrastructure is separate from the coronavirus relief packages. Members of the Senate have indicated to TRALA an interest in moving their own surface transportation reauthorization separate from any coronavirus package, but any bill would need to have steady funding attached to it.
TRALA will continue to work with its allies in both the House and particularly the Senate to push back on several of the most egregious proposals in the INVEST in America Act, especially the massive increase in insurance minimums and leasing task force. At this time, TRALA does not anticipate the House version to move in the Senate but it is a marker bill for a conference committee potentially with the Senate later this summer when the two chambers will need to negotiate a fill bill of some kind.
If you would like to see a copy of H.R. 2, you may do so by clicking here.
If you would like to see a list of amendments considered during the markup you may click here.
If you have any questions or comments on H.R. 2 you may contact Jake Jacoby at firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew Stasiowski at email@example.com.