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House passes amendment to disallow states from setting meal, rest breaks

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An amendment passed Thursday would clarify Congress’ intention to have primary regulatory authority over interstate commerce and end the erosion of this authority by states who impose meal and rest break rules that run counter to national uniformity.

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Thursday passed an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would prevent states from creating a patchwork of meal and rest rules for interstate truck drivers.

The amendment was approved by a vote of 222-193, and reaction from both sides of the issue soon followed.

“The Truckload Carriers Association applauds Thursday’s vote and looks forward to dedicating our effort towards creating one single, national standard for requiring, measuring and tracking our drivers’ meal and rest breaks and ensuring that one federal entity is responsible for governing interstate commerce and improving upon our industry’s safety record,” said David Heller, TCA’s vice president of government affairs.

“Since our republic was founded, the federal government — not individual states like California — has had the power to regulate interstate commerce. Congress reaffirmed this for the trucking industry first in 1994 and again today by approving the Denham-Cuellar-Costa Amendment,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Thanks to the leadership of Congressmen Denham, Cuellar and Costa for raising this critical issue, and to the bipartisan majority for affirming that the federal government has the last word on interstate safety rules.

The amendment was based on California’s meal and rest break initiative, but it has spread to other states and included a retroactivity clause that makes its effective date 1994 — or in essence — as if it had been enacted through the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (commonly called F4A) of 1994.

That means no one could file litigation for violation of state meal and rest break laws, as occurred after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July 2014 that F4A does not preempt the application of California’s meal and rest break laws for motor carriers because these state laws are not sufficiently “related to” prices, routes or services.

The California law requires employers to provide a “duty-free,” 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours a day as well as a second “duty-free,” 30-minute meal break for people who work more than 10 hours a day. Other states followed, enacting their own break rules. Nearly 20 states have their own separate meal and rest break laws.

Trucking industry lobbying groups pushed for an end to what they see as “patchwork” legislation.

“Our industry’s trucks routinely cross state lines to deliver America’s food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods,” said ATA Chairman Dave Manning, president of TCW Inc., of Nashville, Tennessee. “Today’s vote is a key step in making sure the interstate supply chain continues to run safely and efficiently and without a hodgepodge of confusing and duplicative state rules.”

Opponents to the amendment say it would keep states from requiring carriers to give drivers paid meal and rest breaks and would protect carriers from being required to pay drivers for nondriving tasks. In a press release, Jim Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said this fight is not over.

“This union pledges to stand up for truckers and demand that they continue to have the ability to earn a fair wage with the rest break protections they deserve,” Hoffa stated.

“The Teamsters are disappointed in the House’s passage of this amendment which would halt the ability of states and localities to set any workplace rules for truck drivers in their jurisdictions. By prohibiting the enactment or enforcement of any law or regulation that imposes on interstate motor carriers any obligation beyond that covered in the so-called ‘hours of service’ regulations under federal law, they are hindering the rights of lawmakers at the state and local level to self-govern.

“There is no justification for approving language that strips truckers of minimum wage protections. This provision also overrules decades of court precedents confirming that truck drivers are entitled to basic workplace protections, paid sick days, and to be properly classified as employees.”

 

 

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The Nation

9 semis involved in accident on I-80 in Nebraska

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Of the 30 crashes reported to the Nebraska State Patrol Wednesday morning, the biggest took place near Aurora, Nebraska where 11 vehicles, nine of the big rigs, were involved in a large-scale accident on Interstate 80 (Courtesy: NEBRASKA STATE PATROL)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — At least three people were injured in a large-scale accident on Interstate 80 Wednesday morning that involved nine semi-trucks and two passenger vehicles, The Grand Island Independent reported Thursday.

The vehicles were involved in multiple crashes on I-80 between Giltner and Aurora.

The paper’s report said five vehicles took part in a chain-reaction crash and that because of the pileup, I-80 was closed to eastbound traffic for about three hours while emergency crews worked at the scene and cleared the road.

Weather conditions were a factor in the crashes.

The paper said that at about 9:10 a.m., Hamilton County received a 911 call that two semi-tractor/trailers had crashed and jackknifed, blocking eastbound traffic near mile marker 328. As troopers and officers were en route to the scene, additional vehicles became involved in a chain-reaction crash. The first crash scene involved four semis and one passenger vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee.

After the initial incident, a pair of semis that were traveling together came upon the scene and were unable to stop. One struck the other, pushing it into the Jeep Cherokee.

Both occupants of the Cherokee were transported to the hospital in Aurora, but the passenger, Jason Palmer, 29, of Indiana, was flown to Kearney with life-threatening injuries. The driver was evaluated and has been released from the hospital.

One of the semi drivers, Jeffrey Clark, 56, of Colorado, was also transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The paper reported that as traffic was stopped for the first crash scene, another semi jackknifed while attempting to avoid the stopped traffic. Moments later, another crash occurred a short distance to the west involving two more semis and a minivan. No injuries were reported in those crashes.

In total, there were nine semis and two passenger vehicles involved in the incidents near mile marker 328.

The State Patrol said within 24 hours after the storm began, troopers handled 166 motorist assists, responded to 30 crashes and assisted other agencies with 17 incidents. Motorist assists can include slide-offs, flat tires, etc.

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White House ends California talks on mileage standards

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Democratic Sen. Tom Carper said the Trump administration's negotiations with the State of California over fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards have been "superficial and not robust at best, or duplicitous and designed to fail at worst." (Courtesy: U.S. Senate)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration broke off vehicle mileage standards talks with California on Thursday, moving the two closer to a possible court battle that threatens to unsettle the auto industry.

The White House said in a statement that the administration, which wants to freeze mileage standards, would now move unilaterally to “finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

California officials and the Trump administration each accused the other of failing to present any good compromise proposal in the mileage dispute, which comes as President Donald Trump feuds with the Democrat-led state over his proposed border wall and his threats to take back federal money.

The administration announced last year it wanted to freeze what would have been tougher, Obama-era mileage standards for cars and light trucks. It would be one of a series of rollbacks targeting Obama administration efforts against pollution and climate change.

Under the administration proposal, the standards would be frozen after slightly tougher 2020 levels go into effect, eliminating 10 miles per gallon of improvement to a fleet average of 36 miles per gallon in 2025.

As part of the proposed mileage freeze, the administration threatened to revoke California’s legal authority to set its own, tougher mileage standards, a waiver granted that state decades ago to help it deal with its punishing smog. About a dozen states follow California’s mileage standards.

Lawmakers and automakers have urged the two sides to settle, warning that a split could divide the auto market, bring years of court battles and raise costs for automakers.

“This administration’s negotiations with the State of California over fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards have been superficial and not robust at best, or duplicitous and designed to fail at worst,” Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement late Wednesday, as the formal negotiations breakdown loomed.

“Litigation is not the best option here. It wastes time, money, creates uncertainty for American automakers, and harms the environment,” Carper said.

California officials say the administration never offered any compromise and that it broke off any contacts around December.

“We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the state’s air board.

It’s the latest shot by the White House in its escalating feud with California. The Trump administration earlier in the week said it planned to cancel nearly $1 billion for California’s high-speed rail project and would seek the return of $2.5 billion more. Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was political retribution for the state’s role in leading a 16-state lawsuit against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to get funds for his proposed wall at the southern border.

Since it takes several years to design vehicles, automakers have been planning to meet higher mileage requirements under Obama-era standards, as well as those in other countries.

For now, “essentially the industry is ignoring what Trump wants to do,” auto-industry analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Navigant Research said. “We know at least until this thing gets settled in the courts, we have to deal with California and the other states and have product that can sell there as well as products that can sell overseas.”

 

 

 

 

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Ohio governor’s administration proposes gas tax increase

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Ohio's Department of Transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, introduced the governor's $7.43 billion transportation budget proposal to the House Finance Committee. (Courtesy: OHIO DOT)

CINCINNATI — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration on Thursday recommended increasing the state gas tax by 18 cents a gallon beginning July 1 and annually adjusting that tax for inflation to provide sufficient funding for maintenance of roads and bridges.

Ohio’s Department of Transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, introduced the governor’s $7.43 billion transportation budget proposal to the House Finance Committee. The gas tax included in the two-year budget would be adjusted annually with the consumer price index to ensure sufficient funding going forward, Marchbanks said.

He said revenue raised the first year, by increasing the current 28-cent tax to 46 cents, equates to roughly $1.2 billion and will be split between the department and local governments.

Marchbanks told legislators that without more revenue in the face of the “impending transportation crisis,” there will be no funds for any highway improvement projects in the state and roads will deteriorate. Statistics show that deteriorating road conditions lead to more crashes, which lead to more fatalities, he said.

“Governor DeWine understands that maintaining the integrity of our roads and bridges is not only important to our economy; it is important to the health and welfare of our citizens,” Marchbanks said.

If the Legislature approves the recommendations, the proposal would provide the department in fiscal year 2020 with $750 million additional dollars in revenue to pave roads, fix guardrails, fill potholes, clear snow and ice, maintain bridges, and improve safety, Marchbanks told the committee. He said it also will provide local governments with a significant increase in the funding, including $1.6 million for every county in the state.

Marchbanks has previously said that contracts for road maintenance that totaled $2.4 billion in 2014 may drop to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a $1 billion gap remains in the department budget.

A transportation crisis is looming despite “all of ODOT’s multi-million dollar cost-saving efforts to make our agency leaner and more efficient,” he told committee members Thursday.

The department realizes that asking Ohioans to pay higher fees for roadway use is “no small task,” but hopes that most will understand the importance of responsible and sufficient transportation funding, the director said.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Tom Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association, and Grace Gallucci, president of the Ohio Association of Regional Councils, commented on a potential tax increase in testimony to legislators this week.

Balzer said that the state and local governments have immediate transportation needs, and the gas tax raises immediate revenue.

Gallucci pointed out that while questions remain about whether the gas tax is the fairest way to assess users of Ohio roads, it is a way to get needed money right away.

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