By Dave Osiecki, President of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC, and Safety Consultant to PeopleNet
In late June, a bill named the “Honest Operators Undertake Road Safety Act” or the ‘HOURS Act’ was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by a Republican from Arkansas. Two additional Congressmen (one Republican and one Democrat) joined on as original co-sponsors of the bill, which is aimed at modifying parts of the current hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. If passed, the HOURS Act would do four things:
- Exempt drivers hauling livestock or agricultural products from the HOS rules within 150 air-miles of the source of their load, regardless of the limits of a state-designated planting or harvesting season;
- Increase the current 100 air-mile radius exemption for short-haul CDL drivers to 150 air-miles, and increase the current, maximum 12 consecutive hour workday for these drivers to 14 consecutive hours, and exempt these drivers from ELDs if they operate within this expanded radius and workday;
- Reduce the current “supporting documents” burden for drivers and carriers from 8 documents to 2 documents—one to verify the start time and one to verify the ending time of a driver’s daily on-duty period; and,
- Allow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to bypass one rulemaking step (i.e., the advance notice of proposed rulemaking) in a future regulatory process that, if initiated by FMCSA, might propose greater flexibility in how drivers split their off-duty rest time using a sleeper berth.
By now, many in the trucking industry have read bits and pieces about this bill in trade press articles, or perhaps in trade association newsletters or email blasts. These communications typically describe what the bill might do if passed (like the information above). However, most of these communications do not provide information on the process bills like this must go through to become law, nor do they ‘color’ on the likelihood of this type of bill becoming law. The rest of this piece attempts to do both.
First, let’s address the process question—what will it take to become law? The legislative process is complicated and confusing but, for simplicity sake, let’s say the textbook process involves 12 distinct steps. The HOURS Act was formally introduced and referred to the appropriate Committee in the House—step 1 in the process. The next step is typically Subcommittee consideration, followed by full Committee consideration, then full House consideration. Each of these steps have their own challenges, and the HOURS Act has not been scheduled to move to step 2. If the bill was able to make it through steps 2-3, and is then passed by the full House (step 4 in the textbook process), it would be referred to the Senate for similar steps and consideration (steps 5-8). If it were to get this far, and the Senate and House bills differ, these differences must be ironed out by a House-Senate “conference committee” (step 9). Steps 10 and 11 involve the full House and Senate passing the ironed-out bill, and step 12 is the President’s signature.
Let’s turn to the likelihood this bill becoming law. The HOURS Act is awaiting step 2 action, and has a long way to go to become law, especially at this point in a mid-term election year. The fact is most small, ‘rifle-shot’ bills like this one never go through the textbook process and never become law. And, even if the textbook process is not followed on this bill, and the HOURS Act is converted at a later date to an amendment during either Committee or full chamber consideration of a much larger piece of ‘must pass’ legislation, it’s still a longshot. Many legislative priorities compete for committee time, as well as House and Senate floor time. And, the ‘must-pass’ pieces of transportation legislation in this Congress (e.g., the House FAA reauthorization bill) have advanced to the point where few if any additional amendments are likely to be made. And, if this weren’t enough of a challenge, consideration by Congress of the President’s upcoming Supreme Court nominee is likely to consume a significant portion of Congress’ available time this Summer and Fall.
Interestingly, a new startup company named Skopos Labs is using an artificial intelligence platform to forecast the chances of success of bills like the HOURS Act. Skopos Labs’ prognosis for the HOURS Act states that it has a “4% chance of being enacted.” See prognosis at this link: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr6178 In its “Prognosis Details”, Skopos adds a twist by saying, “Although this bill has a low chance of enactment, there is 1 provision within this bill that the provision-level textual analysis considers likely to be enacted.” Unfortunately, Skopos doesn’t identify this one provision. We are simply left guessing.