WASHINGTON, July 3, 2012 -The House and Senate last Friday approved legislation that includes the federal surface transportation reauthorization bill, which provides an estimated $105 billion in federal funding for highway, transit and safety programs through the end of September 2014. After nine extensions, Congress narrowly beat a June 30 deadline before the law was set to expire.
Still, President Obama Friday signed off on another one-week extension of existing law to give the new bill time to reach his desk. He is expected to sign the measure any day now.
“This long overdue legislation is critical to market certainty and economic growth, and I encourage the President to sign this into law without delay,” said Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) Chair Rusty Fowler. “The much-needed two years of market certainty provided by the legislation passed in Congress today should be used by all to continue working on a more effective infrastructure solution to keep America strong and competitive for years to come."
The two-year agreement, reached after lengthy deliberations among the House and Senate conference committee members, is shorter than the House’s originally desired five-year reauthorization, but includes several provisions important to agriculture including provisions clarifying agricultural hours of service clarifications and providing an exemption for farm vehicles.
“The passage of this important bill by Congress will help ensure that agricultural retailers are able to supply farmers with the products they need, in the most efficient manner, during busy times of the year,” said Agricultural Retailers Association President Daren Coppock.
Under the final bill, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP–21), every state will receive the same highway funding they received in FY12 and then receive a one to two percent funding increase in the second year of the bill.
Also included in the legislation is a provision that extends the 3.4% interest rate for federally-subsidized student loans for another year, which was scheduled to double on July 1. The bill also reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program for five years, ending September 30, 2017. Additionally, the conference report streamlines agencies’ environmental review process by implementing deadlines for completion.
“This legislation is good news for anyone who drives our highways, lives in flood-prone areas, or endeavors to begin college,” said Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “It’s also earmark-free, sending a message that Congress was serious about our earmark ban.”
The final agreement includes the Farmers’ Freedom Act (H.R. 2414), sponsored by Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.. The measure exempts certain farm vehicles from federal requirements, such as commercial driver’s licenses designed for fulltime commercial drivers. Also included is H.R. 3265, introduced by Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., which waives certain driving restrictions during planting and harvesting seasons for farmers who are transporting commodities. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., co-sponsored similar amendments addressing hours of service and farm vehicle exemptions.
“The last thing a farmer needs is overbearing federal regulations when trying to plant and harvest a crop,” Graves said. “I believe this bill balances the need for quick delivery while making sure safety remains a priority.” The conference report includes language clarifying the provision that will exempt truck drivers transporting certain agricultural products or exempt from hours of service rules put in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
“Seeing that much of my district is rural, the timely delivery of farm supplies is critical to the success of not only my district, but all of rural America,” said Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., who co-sponsored the provision.
The Agriculture Hours-of-Service (AgHOS) exemption came into question in 2009 when FMCSA interpretated regulations that resulted in restrictions for certain farm supplies.
The provisions reinforce existing law by clarifying that a driver transporting farm supplies from source to retail, source to farm and retail to farm is included under the existing (AgHOS) exemption. The exemption is provided if the motor carrier is delivering farm supplies for agricultural purposes where none of the transportation movements exceed a 150 air-mile radius.
“Specifically, this bill is a big deal to farm and ranch families across the country,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President J.D. Alexander. “Many do not realize just how important this transportation legislation is to farmers and ranchers.” However, Alexander said “there is still work to be done,” and was disappointed truck weights were not directly addressed in MAP-21.
“State governments need to be given the option to increase truck weights with an additional axle to livestock and semi-trailers,” he said. “This will increase braking power and place less total weight on each axle, making livestock transportation safer, more economical and less stressful on U.S. roadways.”
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