September 13, 2018 4:45 PM, EDT

Senate Still Reviewing FAA Bill That Contains Trucking-Related Issues as Deadline Nears

FAA BillThune (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Proponents of a bill that includes language to ensure nationwide uniformity of meal-and-rest-break rules for truck drivers are racing against the clock to advance the measure before a funding deadline, but face resistance from some Democratic senators.

The proposal is included in the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, sponsors of which have been unable to schedule a debate on the Senate floor. The authorization of federal aviation programs expires at the end of the month.

Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) — one of the bill’s sponsors — continues to explore every option for moving it forward, a committee aide told Transport Topics recently.

FAA Bill

Feinstein (left) and Harris

Despite moderate bipartisan backing for the legislation, persistent pushback led by California’s Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, has contributed to the bill’s failed momentum. The senators outlined their objections to the provision in a Sept. 6 letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); the chamber’s top Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York; Thune; and Commerce Committee ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). In the letter, the Democratic senators argued the meal-and-rest break provision undermines states’ “ability to protect the safety of the public and regulate its workforce,” and said that Congress “has repeatedly struck similar preemption provisions from pending legislation.”

Specifically, the trucking provision is meant to clarify a 1994 law to block a California law on meal and rest breaks. That California 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 aviation policy bill that won sweeping approval in the House by a vote of 393-14 includes a similar meal-and-rest break proposal. Prior to the House bill’s passing, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), defended the provision, arguing that it “is about interstate commerce, making sure that you can drive a truck transporting goods from one state to another without having challenges going from a patchwork of states across the entire country.”

FAA Bill

Denham (Transportation & Infrastructure Committee via YouTube)

American Trucking Associations continues to express its commitment to see lawmakers advance the meal-and-rest-break provision this year. The group’s expectation, it has explained, is for the aviation policy bill to reach Trump’s desk this fall.

In a statement to TT, Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs and ATA press secretary said, “This provision — which passed the House earlier this year — and all of Congress in 1994 — on a bipartisan basis should not hold up the FAA bill. We continue to believe that clarifying Congress’ intent that the federal government — not individual states — should be the sole regulator of drivers’ hours of service should be noncontroversial.”

If the chambers are unable to agree on a final bill and clear it for President Donald Trump’s signature prior to Oct. 1, an extension of FAA authorization is an option.