Congress again forgoes hours of service fix in latest appropriations bill

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Updated Oct 1, 2016
If lawmakers fail to act, the 34-hour restart faces two options: Removal entirely from hours of service code or stuck within 2013’s unpopular hours reform.If lawmakers fail to act, the 34-hour restart faces two options: Removal entirely from hours of service code or stuck within 2013’s unpopular hours reform.

Both chambers of Congress on Wednesday passed a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 9. The stopgap spending law wards off a government shutdown, but the bill — dubbed a “clean continuing resolution” from its onset — did not include a provision to clarify the future of hours of service rules pertaining to truckers’ use of a 34-hour restart.

The measure will now likely be taken up in the 2017 Department of Transportation appropriations bill or a similar omnibus spending package for the 2017 fiscal year.

Some major news outlets had reported that Congress was eyeing the the must-pass appropriations bill as a means to pass other so-called “riders,” like the measure to correct a 2015-passed bill that put the 34-hour restart in jeopardy. Some reports specifically mentioned the hours fix as a rider likely to be tacked on to the government funding bill.

However, with time waning and other controversial measures swirling around the bill (such as $1 billion to fight Zika and a major Flint, Mich., water relief package), lawmakers skipped padding the short-term bill with policy riders.

Time will be tight for lawmakers to pass their 2017 appropriations bills and hammer out an hours-of-service provision, as both chambers are now in recess until after the Nov. 8 election.

They’ll have just a month to knock out nearly a dozen appropriations bills. Lawmakers have treated the appropriations process similarly in recent years, passing mid-December omnibus spending packages to fund the government through the next fiscal year.

Hours of service — specifically, rules surrounding the 34-hour restart — saw play in both December 2014- and 2015-enacted appropriations legislation.

The 34-hour restart also saw play in both the House and the Senate earlier this year. The House floated a plan in its 2017 DOT appropriations bill to simply revert 34-hour restart regulations to those in place before July 1, 2013, meaning truckers’ restarts do not need to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. The House’s plan cleared committee but did not yet receive a vote on the House floor.

The Senate, meanwhile, passed a bill earlier this year that ties the future of the 34-hour restart to a 2014-initiated FMCSA study. The Senate version sets a new 73-hour cap on the amount of hours truckers can remain on-duty in a rolling seven-day period, should the Senate find that pre-2013 hours-of-service rules are more effective at managing fatigue and safety.

If FMCSA’s study finds that 2013 rules are safer, those rules will simply go back into effect, meaning truckers’ 34-hour restarts will again have to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and will be limited to use to once per week.