The Senate today passed legislation to fund the nation's highway and mass transit programs for the next two years at a cost of $109 billion.The bill, passed by a vote of 75-22, would establish rules designed to curb alleged abuses by freight brokers and intermediaries. It would also provide $2 billion in each of the two years for what has been termed "freight-specific" projects and mandate the use of electronic on-board recorders to monitor a truck's movement and location, and ensure driver compliance with federal rules governing the number of hours they can work in a given day.
The Senate bill is designed to crack down hard on allegedly fraudulent behavior by truck brokers and other intermediaries, mostly against small trucking concerns like one-person owner-operators. The bill increases the bond that must be placed by brokers to $100,000 from $10,000. For the first time, motor carriers will be required to hold separate operating authority if they want to broker freight. The bill sets strict regulations on surety bond companies and the way the bonds are administered. And it levies harsh penalties on companies that conduct brokerage operations without a bond or a license.
The language is designed to address the grievances of owner-operators, who have long complained that they receive freight from brokers only to not get paid in a timely manner, or sometimes not at all, after the goods are delivered.
The language was inserted in the bill by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) during debate on the Senate floor. Similar language is included in the House's version of transport reauthorization legislation, which is still awaiting action.
A five-year, $260 billion bill that has passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has foundered on the House floor after the leadership failed to generate enough support from members. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week the House would take up the Senate bill if members could not agree on their own bill. The House is in recess this week.
The nation's transportation programs have been operating under eight temporary extensions since the last transport law, signed by President Bush in 2005, expired in 2009. The most recent extension expires on March 31.
An industry source in Washington told DC Velocity that the House is considering a proposal to extend the current legislation for six weeks from the end of March, thus allowing House leaders to marshal enough support to get a bill passed by mid-May. The two versions must be reconciled by House-Senate conferees before a final version could reach President Obama's desk for signature.
At this point, supporters in the House are about 50 votes short of the required 218 votes for passage, according to the source.
Virtually all interests, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Trucking Associations to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, came out in support of the Senate action.
The Senate bill did not include an amendment proposed by Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) to end the limited antitrust exemptions granted to the railroad industry and shift antitrust enforcement from the Surface Transportation Board to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. It also dropped a provision introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) that would have barred the use of federal funds for new tolling operations on all federal-aid highways.
The bill, formally known as MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century), was largely the handiwork of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee's ranking minority member.