Obama could veto DOT funding; hours-of-service suspension one reason

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The Obama Administration this week says it will strongly consider vetoing a bill to fund the Department of Transportation for the 2016 fiscal year, citing language in the bill that would reinforce last year’s suspension of some hours-of-service regulations as one of many reasons.

The policy statement issued Monday (June 1) by the White House says if the president receives H.R. 2577 as is, “senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

The $55 billion bill, which would fund both the DOT and the Department of Housing and Urban Development from September 2015 to September 2016, contains several directives to FMCSA and other DOT agencies regarding trucking regulations, including spelling out how 2015’s stay of enforcement on 2013-implemented hours-of-service regulations should be handled from here.

Though the bill’s funding levels and cuts to housing assistance are two of the Obama Administration’s key reasons for the veto threat, the trucking regulatory changes in the legislation also are listed as potential hang-ups for presidential approval.

The White House also notes its concern for the bill’s size and weight limit changes: One provision in the bill would up the maximum length limit on double trailers to 33-feet each.

The appropriations bill “would undercut public safety,” the policy statement says, “by letting the trucking industry avoid truck size and weight limits and by preventing data-driven changes that would improve safety for all travelers by addressing truck driver fatigue (‘Hours of Service’) (sic).”

Congress in December passed a 2015 government funding bill that included a provision to halt enforcement of two regulations related to use of a 34-hour weekly hours restart. The two suspended provisions include the requirement that a restart contain two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and the once-per-week limit of the restart’s use.

The December-passed bill also required an FMCSA study on the suspended rules. The law dictates that the restart rollback will stay in effect until FMCSA produces its report or until Sept. 30 — whichever is later.

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The 2016 funding bill now under consideration, however, makes reimplementation of the provisions contingent solely on FMCSA’s study and its conclusions.

However, before the bill can be sent to President Obama for his signature, the full House must pass the legislation, and it must be passed by the Senate. The Senate still has not produced its version of a 2016 DOT funding bill, however.

The current version of the House bill would also block FMCSA from increasing liability insurance minimums for carriers and scale back investment in wireless roadside inspection technology.