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July 3, 2018 1:30 PM, EDT

Aviation Bill With Trucking Meal, Rest Break Language Yet to Reach Senate Floor

Love's rest stop John Sommers II for Transport Topics

An aviation policy bill that has yet to reach the floor in the U.S. Senate includes a key trucking provision, and is among the policy priorities for members of Congress returning to Washington after the July Fourth recess.

The bill’s co-sponsors, which include Commerce Committee leaders, have emphasized a willingness to advance the bill to the floor sometime this summer.

The Senate’s floor manager, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has not said when he intends to call up the Federal Aviation Administration policy bill.

Mitch McConnell

McConnell

The FAA bill that would reauthorize the nation’s aviation system includes a section designed to ensure nationwide uniformity on meal-and-rest-break rules for truck drivers. The provision is meant to clarify a 1994 law to block a California meal-and-rest break law.

That state’s law from 2011 requires employers to provide a “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day, as well as a second “duty-free” 30-minute meal break for people who work more than 10 hours a day.

An FAA policy bill passed by the House includes a similar provision. The authorization of federal aviation programs, meanwhile, expires at the end September.

American Trucking Associations is among the backers of the meal-and-rest break provision. The group has expressed optimism the FAA legislation will reach the president’s desk before the end of the year.

“Enacting this clarification will ensure motor carriers can continue to operate efficiently and competitively, under nationally-standard federal regulations, as Congress intended, rather than being forced to adhere to a 50-state patchwork of rules governing driver hours,” according to ATA.

Last month, McConnell suspended part of the chamber’s August recess as a way to ensure members have more time to tackle policy bills, as well as fiscal 2019 funding measures.

Besides aviation policy, McConnell and his counterparts in the House are aiming to advance as many fiscal 2019 funding bills this summer. Lawmakers will do so while debating immigration policy and President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. That nominee is likely to face a tough confirmation fight in the Senate.

Thus far, the chambers have advanced funding bills related to veterans programs, energy oversight and the national defense apparatus. Action on those bills has paved the way for the chambers to consider transportation funding bills.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the transportation funding leader, sounded optimistic over the bill’s chances of reaching the floor this summer. Senate appropriators advanced the transportation bill June 7. The bill would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to communicate with trucking and agriculture industry executives, federal policymakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to address concerns livestock haulers have raised about electronic logging devices.

The House transportation appropriations bill, sent to the floor in May, would deny funding through fiscal 2019 for the enforcement of the electronic logging device rule on livestock haulers.

The appropriations bill in each chamber would provide U.S. Department of Transportation with similar funding. Trump has called for individual funding bills to reach his desk, instead of the practice of merging them to create a massive measure known as an “omnibus.” Trump signed a fiscal 2018 “omnibus” earlier this year, and said he would not again do so.