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February 25, 2016 12:00 AM, EST

Democrats Oppose Meal-Break Provision in FAA Bill

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are calling on colleagues to oppose an aviation reform bill that includes a provision affecting rest breaks for truckers when the measure reaches the House floor.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the trucking proposal in the Federal Aviation Administration reform bill was “very controversial.” The provision would prevent states from enacting laws requiring companies to schedule meal-and-rest breaks for drivers or to pay drivers by the hour.

“We already have a regulatory structure for interstate commerce for truckers, although the industry has undermined the appropriations process,” DeFazio said Feb. 24 here at a conference hosted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The FAA reauthorization bill had been expected to reach the House floor this week, Republican floor managers said. However, disagreements among top transportation leaders have held up the bill. The T&I panel reported it to the floor on Feb. 11.

On the Senate side, senior Democrats on the transportation committees have joined DeFazio in opposing the bill’s rest-break provision for truckers.

Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Barbara Boxer of California, ranking members of the Commerce and Environment and Public Works panels, respectively, are mounting opposition to the trucking provision.

“It has no place in any bill,” Boxer told reporters Feb. 25.

Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) indicated he would likely advance a version of the FAA bill within weeks. In an interview with reporters, Thune did not specify if that version would include the trucking language.

The meal-break provision in the House bill is aimed largely at blocking a California meal­-break law, signed in 2011, that 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. Also, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has stated California’s general workforce break requirements are not specific to highway safety.

“A single set of consistent and fair regulations is essential to the trucking industry,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves. “Language currently being discussed by Congressional leaders would ensure that drivers operate under a consistent set of break rules, whether that driver is delivering a trailer full of water to Flint, Michigan, or picking up a load of avocados in Temecula, California. That’s what Congress sought to establish with a 1994 law, and recent interpretations of that law by the courts are threatening that consistency.”