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May 23, 2018 5:15 PM, EDT

House Appropriators Keep Meal-and-Rest-Break Provision in Transportation Bill

Truck driver taking a break Getty Images

A provision aimed at ensuring uniformity nationwide for meal-and-rest-break laws for truck drivers will stay in a House funding bill after surviving a Democratic-led effort to remove it May 23.

The fiscal 2019 transportation bill, which the House Appropriations Committee approved 34-17, includes language that would prohibit states from enacting meal-and-rest-break laws in an effort to clarify a requirement in a 1994 aviation law. The provision, similar to one included in a recent House-passed aviation reauthorization measure, would aim to block a 2011 law in California pertaining to meal and rest breaks. An aviation policy bill in the Senate also includes the provision.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the bill sponsor and the chamber’s transportation funding leader, called the meal-and-rest-break policy, as well as other legislative riders close to the trucking industry, “important provisions.”

Mario Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart

“They’ve been worked out with the members of this [transportation] subcommittee,” Diaz-Balart said.

Democrats, led by transportation funding subcommittee ranking member Rep. David Price of North Carolina, disagreed with Republicans. An amendment offered by Price that would have removed the truck-centric provisions from the bill was rejected 29-21 along party lines.

Prior to the vote, Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the policy riders “are nonstarters” for Democrats whenever the measure is called up for floor debate.

American Trucking Associations has backed the meal-and-rest-break provision on Capitol Hill.

Earlier this month, after the bill gained subcommittee approval, an ATA spokesman said, “We’re pleased that this critical issue is once again being addressed by Congress, and its inclusion in this bill is yet another example of the strong support for addressing the issue in a uniform and national way.”

Additionally, appropriators easily adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) designed to seek information from the U.S. Department of Transportation about longer combination trailers for trucks.

“This does not increase truck length, weight. But, I must stress that we will be able to debate the merits of this issue on another day,” Fleischmann said. “This is merely report language, so that we can get the data that we all need to make those decisions.”

The transportation funding bill also would deny funding through fiscal 2019 for the enforcement of an electronic logging device rule on livestock haulers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration already will not enforce the ELD rule for agriculture-related transportation through Sept. 30 under a recently signed fiscal 2018 funding law.

Overall, the bill would provide $71.8 billion in discretionary funding for transportation and housing programs, a $1.5 billion increase above enacted levels. Amtrak would receive $1.9 billion, of which $650 million would be directed for projects and maintenance along its Northeast corridor, which has an impressive presence between Boston and Washington.

“These investments will be used to build critical transportation infrastructure that is vital to our nation’s economy and national security. This includes appropriations for additional funding for the Northeast corridor, which is not just critical to New York and New Jersey but to the entire country,” said committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). “More than 20 states rely on the East Coast rail system, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of passengers who travel every single day.”