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May 20, 2020 4:30 PM, EDT

Senate Committee Advances FMCSA Safety Grants Bill

airportThe committee also advanced legislation that would require a joint task force to examine safety and efficiency of air travel during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nutthaseth Vanchaichana/Getty Images)

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Legislation aimed at facilitating financial assistance from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was easily approved by a Senate panel on May 20.

The Motor Carrier Safety Grant Relief Act of 2020 would provide FMCSA the authority to reallocate unspent grants from fiscal 2019 and 2020 to the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, or MCSAP.

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a sponsor, explained the bill gives states an extra year to spend certain funds awarded for fiscal 2019 and 2020. He added it would allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to distribute unallocated funds.

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“This would ensure that state and local law enforcement do not lose funding unnecessarily as they continue their frontline work responding to this pandemic,” the chairman said during the bill’s consideration.

Added Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member, “This legislation would provide more flexibility for states to spend grant money designated for commercial vehicle enforcement.”

Other sponsors include Republican Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, as well as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

The committee also advanced legislation that would require a joint task force to examine safety and efficiency of air travel during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the bill states the task force “shall develop plans, guidelines and recommended requirements to address the logistical, health, safety and security issues relating to the continued operation of air travel.”

Senate Republican leaders who manage legislation on the floor have yet to announce when they would take up the bills. They have signaled the potential for including such policy measures in either coronavirus economic aid legislation or must-pass government funding bills. A focus on the coronavirus response has dominated debates on Capitol Hill.

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2021 budget request proposes allocating $403 million for Motor Carrier Safety Grants. According to background from the administration, the grants are designed to dedicate funding to “eligible states to conduct compliance reviews, identify and apprehend traffic violators, conduct roadside inspections and support safety audits on new entrant carriers.”

On the House side, policymakers have yet to consider their version. Pertaining to the safety of the supply chain, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced they would continue to explore the administration’s efforts to procure and coordinate shipments of personal protective equipment where there are high or increased cases of COVID-19.

House policymakers also indicated they would examine “how the administration is working with commercial distributors, and the extent to which the federal government is relying on private supply chains versus playing a more proactive role in decisions related to distribution of supplies.”

On May 14, FMCSA announced a final rule to allow more flexibility for the 30-minute rest break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using “on-duty, not driving” status, rather than “off-duty” status.

“America’s truckers have been on the front lines in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and these regulatory improvements to help them do their jobs as effectively and safely as possible come at a critical time. These improvements to hours-of-service rules won’t increase driving time, but they recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach does not give drivers the necessary flexibility to make the right decisions to safely operate their vehicles,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I applaud [Transportation] Secretary [Elaine] Chao and the Trump administration’s continued commitment to improving the regulations in a manner that benefits workers, the flow of commerce, and the safety of our transportation system.”

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