Agricultural Exemptions Passed
"Farmers and ranchers are not professional truck drivers and shouldn't be treated as such," stated Kent Bacus, National Cattlemen's Beef Association Director of Legislative Affairs. "Hauling livestock to market two times a year is hardly the same as hauling goods across the country on a daily basis."
This sentiment was echoed in the Senate with the approval of two amendments differentiating between the agricultural and trucking industries that are attached to the Highway Bill. Both amendments, according to Bacus, take a commonsense approach to the differences between commercial transportation and agriculture.
One of the amendments, sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkely, D-Ore, and co-sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt, R-Mo and Patrick Toomey, R-PA, removes the need for farm vehicle drivers to acquire a commercial driver's license like that needed for professional truck driving jobs. It also removes the requirements that force farm trucks to follow the same federal regulations as trucking companies. The amendment specifically affects family members and employees of a farm or ranch who are driving a vehicle registered as farm equipment across state lines within a 150 mile radius of their farm or the point of purchase for agricultural supplies, equipment or livestock.
The other amendment was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, and was co-sponsored by Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan. The amendment is aimed at drivers carrying agricultural goods or farm supplies for agricultural use. It exempts them during the planting and harvesting seasons from having to follow the laws governing on-duty and driving times that professionals in the trucking industry have to follow. The exemption is good within a 100 mile radius of the farm producing the agricultural goods or the retail or wholesale facility selling the farm supplies.
The House of Representatives has been working on legislation with similar provisions. H.R. 2414, introduced by Representative James Lankford, R-Okla, and known as the Farmer's Freedom Act of 2011, has many points in common with Merkeley's amendment to exempt farm vehicle drivers from requirements aimed at trucking companies and those with professional truck driving jobs. Another bill introduced by Representative Sam Graves, R-Mo, H.R. 3265, removes some restrictions on driving during the busy planting and harvesting seasons.
Rather than pushing forward with these bills, however, the House has decided to take up the Senate version of the Highway Bill, including the two amendments mentioned above. The House will take the Highway Bill under consideration once the Senate has finished voting on it, an action expected to occur later this week.
The agricultural industry has expressed broad support for the Senate's amendments to the Highway Bill. According to Bob Stallman, president of the Farm Bureau, the vehicle exemptions are particularly needed. "The amendment is important because some states exempt farm vehicles while others do not," he said. "Under the current situation, merely the act of crossing state lines can trigger conflicting requirements for some farmers who are doing nothing more than hauling their own crop."
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, has also expressed support for extending the exemption for hours of service during planting and harvesting seasons.