By STAN MADDUX
WASHINGTON D.C. — Three bills aimed at helping transportation in agriculture are now before Congress. Two of the measures address restrictions on the time certain livestock and insect haulers can be on the road until the drivers must rest.
Under the Transporting Livestock Across America Safety Act (TLAASA) presented May 7 in the U.S. Senate, the clock on how much time drivers hauling livestock and insects can spend on the road wouldn’t apply unless they exceed a 300-air-mile radius.
Currently, the time restrictions under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration apply to drivers exceeding 150 air miles. According to the TLAASA, on-duty time spent waiting to be dispatched, loading or unloading, and doing other things like giving or receiving receipts for shipments along with rest periods would not work against the clock for livestock and insect haulers.
Livestock and insect haulers starting at 150 air miles from the point of delivery would be allowed to finish their runs without the time to finish the trip counting against the clock. After completing the trip, drivers would have to be off the road for five hours less than the maximum drive time.
Currently, all haulers have to rest for 10 hours once reaching 15 hours of service, and 13 hours after eclipsing 18 hours of driving time.
The TLAASA was introduced by Sens. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, and Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana. The measure stems from restrictions agriculture interests call unfair to livestock and insect haulers, whose ability to reach market is more time-sensitive than drivers carrying other products.
Steve Hilker, chair of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Assoc. Transportation Committee, said the proposed loosening of travel restrictions gives haulers “the flexibility needed to get their live cargo to its destination as safely and efficiently as possible.”
He said the safety and welfare of animals would also increase as a result of times between destinations being shorter.
The TLAASA came right before the filing of the Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act (MATA) in the House by Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Greg Pence (R-Ind.). Peterson is also chair of the House Agriculture Committee.
If adopted, MATA gives the secretary of U.S. Transportation up to 120 days to establish a working group to study regulatory and legislative improvements for the livestock, insect, and agricultural commodities transport industries. The group would present initiatives and regulatory changes to the USDA secretary for maintaining and protecting the safety of highways while allowing for safe, efficient, and productive delivery of ag goods to markets.
Group members would include governors, along with representatives from agriculture and highway safety at the state and local levels. The group, no later than one year after formation, would need to submit their findings and recommendations.
MATA is a companion bill to a measure gaining support from both parties since being introduced to the Senate in February.
“We applaud Congress for working every angle to come up with solutions that would allow for the safe and efficient movement of cattle throughout the country. New regulations imposed in 2017 do not work for the livestock transportation industry,” Hilker said.
Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc., called the present hours of service rules for livestock haulers “too restrictive.
“Cattle producers are glad to see another bipartisan effort designed to provide much-needed relief for livestock haulers,” she said.
And a repeal of the 12 percent federal excise tax on purchases of new heavy-duty trucks, tractors, and trailers is called for in the Modern, Clean, and Safe Trucks Act of 2019 (MCTSA), filed April 29 in the House. According to this bill, the federal excise tax adds $12,000-$22,000 to the cost of a heavy truck, tractor, or trailer and discourages replacing older, less environmentally-friendly models.
The average cost of a heavy-duty truck is also increased by more than $39,000 from U.S EPA mandates governing emissions and fuel efficiency. Those costs result in another $4,700 in excise taxes for every truck, according to the MCTSA.
According to the measure’s supporters, revenue generated by the excise tax fluctuates greatly, because it’s based on sales, and should be replaced by a more consistent revenue mechanism. The excise tax – used to supply the federal Highway Trust Fund – was first established in 1917 to offset the cost of U.S involvement in World War I.