The U.S. House and Senate easily passed a five-year, $305 billion highway reauthorization bill on Dec. 3 that would reform a safety performance scoring program for motor carriers and pave the way for employers to rely on hair testing to screen prospective truckers.
The House passed it by a vote of 359 to 65 and the Senate by a vote of 83-16. The Obama White House indicated it would sign the reconciled highway bill — the product of House- and Senate-passed transportation measures.
With funding authority for highway programs expiring Dec. 4, legislators had to act quickly to send the bill to the president to avoid a disruption across the country’s transportation system. (Update, Dec. 4, 5:15 p.m. ET: President Obama has signed the bill into law.)
For policymakers, the legislation signifies the culmination of years negotiating over provisions related to truck safety policy, railroad braking systems and infrastructure funding programs.
“Since I became chairman, one of my top priorities has been to pass a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. For the last year and more, I have traveled across the country, talked to transportation and business leaders about the need for a reauthorization bill,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the bill’s lead author.
Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a statement: "We couldn't be more proud of the overwhelming vote today, because this legislation is essential for jobs, for our safety by rebuilding our roads and bridges, and for our economic standing in the world. We applaud our many colleagues who worked tirelessly alongside our committee through long hours and many negotiations to make this accomplishment happen. The FAST Act has enormous support throughout the country from businesses and workers alike, and we are so pleased that it is now going to the President to be signed into law."
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to ensure its Compliance, Safety, Accountability scoring program for trucking companies provides “the most reliable” analysis possible. To achieve that goal, it calls for a review of the program and, during that review period, CSA scores would be removed from public view.
It also calls on FMCSA to determine the impact an increase in minimum insurance levels would have on safety, small- and minority-owned carrier and owner-operators and study the ability of the insurance industry to offer expanded coverage. Additionally, the legislation would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a pilot program for current or former members of the military who are under 21 and with truck driving experience, to operate trucks across state lines. Participating drivers would be prohibited from transporting passengers or hazardous materials and “special configurations.” DOT must establish a working group to monitor the program and make recommendations.
Tucked in the bill is a provision that would allow hair testing an alternative to urine tests for employment screening. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would have a year to establish federal standards for such a hair-testing provision that would need to be adopted by DOT.
American Trucking Associations Chairman Pat Thomas, who is senior vice president of state government affairs for UPS Inc., applauded the chamber’s efforts: “While not perfect, this bill is a tremendous step forward for trucking in many respects.”