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February 11, 2016 4:00 PM, EST
Provision Affecting Meal, Rest Breaks Clears First Hurdle in House
Napolitano via transport.house.gov
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members voted Feb. 11 to keep a provision tucked in an aviation reform bill that would prevent states from enacting laws requiring trucking companies to schedule meal-and-rest breaks for truck drivers or pay drivers by the hour.

By a 31-27 margin, an amendment introduced by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), at a Feb. 11 committee markup of the aviation authorization bill, failed to gain committee support for stripping the pre-emption provision from the bill.

In offering her amendment to remove the language, Napolitano said 21 states and U.S. territories currently have requirements that motor carriers provide for meal-and-rest breaks for drivers.

She said requirements such as those in California are “very reasonable when you consider that truck drivers can be subjected to 14 hours of on-duty time.”

The 2011 California meal-break law, which has been mired in litigation, requires employers to provide a “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day and a second “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for those who work more than 10 hours a day.

A similar provision contained in the aviation bill calling for pre-emption from the state laws originally was included in a House version of the 2015 surface transportation law, known as the FAST Act, but it was removed during conference with the Senate.

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said trucking companies are pre-empted by federal law from a “patchwork” of regulatory meal-and-rest-break requirements like those in California that “undermine the efficency of interstate commerce.”

“This is an interstate commerce issue, and we have rules on the books dealing with interstate commerce, and California is doing things that are disupting that,” Shuster said. “We have trucking companies that are leaving California or deciding they are not going to go to California because of this.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who supported Napolitano’s amendment, said the pre-emption language would prevent carriers from requirements that they provide truck drivers breaks, but also would not require companies to pay drivers detention pay when they eat up their driving hours held up at loading docks.

“There is no reason for this,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who supported removing the provision. “Let the states decide, and let’s be decent to working people who drive trucks.”

However, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who opposed removing the language from the bill, called the California meal-and-rest break law a “huge mess in California” that is “no longer just a California problem.”

“If it hasn’t come to your state, beware, because it will come to your state very, very soon by way of lawsuit,” Denham said.

Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) agreed with Denham. “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration itself said the California meal-and-rest break laws are not related to commercial motor carrier safety,” Costello said. “In fact, what I hear from drivers is that by forcing drivers to take additional, unwanted and unnecessary breaks, the drivers’ day gets extended to maximum on-duty limits under the federal rules.”

Sean McNally, a spokesman for American Trucking Associations, said that the aviation bill’s trucking provision  ensures drivers are subject to a uniform set of federal rules.

The pre-emptive provision, Sec. 611 in H.R. 4441, “clarifies that Congress intended the trucking industry to be governed by a single set of federal rules and break requirements created by the federal agency tasked with overseeing motor carrier safety, and did not intend carriers who pay drivers by the mile or by the load to have to change those practices depending on what state they’re in,” McNally said.