Major Trucking Legislation

Throughout 2011 and into 2012, various pieces of crucial trucking legislation will be up for debate. 

The debate, as always, comes down to a mix of government spending and the appropriate ways to increase revenue and fund any projects approved by the legislature. Currently, legislators are at odds about how to fund both consumer and commercial transportation and infrastructure improvements.

Republican lawmakers would prefer to raise the necessary funds -- about $12 billion for the ground shipping industry -- by levying a higher tax on energy production. The Democratic-controlled Senate, however, has balked at this idea and is instead proposing an increase to the federal fuel tax. It'a a tax that has remained unchanged since 1993, and it's likely to do so during the upcoming year as well.

Given these type of legislative gridlock, what can the industry expect in the coming year? Changes may not be dramatic or sweeping, but many pieces of good legislation stand a good chance of passing and affecting truckers nationwide.

Transportation Funding and the Multi-Year Bill

For the past several years, transportation funding has been passed through Congress via short-term extensions and coverage of certain funding gaps. Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, now say they prefer to pass a multi-year deal in place of those short-term extensions.

Currently, two bills are winding their way through the Senate which would approve $102 billion in highway and transportation funding over the course of two years. The Democratic-led Senate has resisted the call of Speaker Boehner to pass a longer, five-year transportation bill, which he has said he prefers over a two-year bill.

Trucking-Related Provisions in the Senate Bills

Key to this bill is a provision that would protect truckers from nefarious dispatching companies which have been shut down for shoddy adherence to federal safety regulations. Those companies typically disappear for a short while, and then reopen under a "shell company" with a new name that allows them to continue their shoddy practices in the face of federal regulators.

A second bill in the Senate would require electronic on-board recorders, or EOBRs, to be installed in each truck within one year of passage. It's a tall order for the industry, but one that has been welcomed by many of the more reputable companies and one which would positively impact many truck driving jobs.

Other Bills Expected to Pass

The highway and transportation funding bill is the biggest bill in Congress, as it concerns the trucking companies in the United States. But this bill is supplemented by separate pieces of legislation that would change the way trucking is done -- and the way truckers are treated -- moving forward from the 2012 legislative session.

Perhaps the biggest change being eyed is that of the multi-trailer regulations currently in place. Railroad lobbies effectively prevented the government from increasing the maximum weight load carried by commercial trucks to increase over the course of the last two decades. That has prevented larger, multi-trailer trucks from spanning the coasts and making bigger deliveries, but it has benefited the rail industry. Congress has agreed that these limitations should be examined -- and perhaps reconsidered -- during the upcoming year.

Another piece of legislation winding its way through the halls of Congress would modify truck driver hours of service, or HOS. While it would help to improve truck driving jobs, this piece of legislation is highly controversial; it is largely opposed by the larger commercial shipping companies. Were it to pass, it would not even come into effect until 2013 -- and that's only if safety groups and industry insiders don't defeat the bill in the courts, which they are expected to attempt.

A Big Year of Trucking

A large number of legislators in Washington have acknowledge that the transportation bill is long-overdue, and that a multi-year piece of legislation is essential to passage. They've expressed their support for many pieces of trucking-related legislation, and they've committed to a bipartisan solution on the matter. The trucking industry must simply wait for them to make good on their promises.

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