By Kent Bacus, NCBA manager of legislative affairs
Over the years, U.S beef producers have been anxiously waiting for Congress to vote on legislation to address our concerns with antiquated and inconsistent transportation rules and regulations that hinder the flow of commerce for small businesses. Legislative solutions are typically consolidated into one piece of multi-year authorizing legislation commonly known as the highway bill.
Instead of keeping our transit laws current and reflective of the needs of today’s economy, Congress has the unfortunate habit of kicking the can down the road by extending the existing highway bill to a time when political and fiscal forecasts seem brighter. In fact, the previous highway bill expired in October 2009 and has been extended several times. The current extension of transportation programs will expire at the end of March 2012. All signs from Capitol Hill suggested that no further action would happen on the highway bill until early 2012.
Fortunately, we are finally starting to see movement on the transportation front. On Wed., Nov. 9, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted unanimously in support of S. 1813, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” commonly referred to as the highway bill. The bill is a two year bill that consolidates existing surface transportation programs and reallocates funding to other transportation programs.
Unfortunately, the bill does not include language to address cattlemen’s immediate concerns with increasing truck weights with an additional axle or to allow agricultural permits for drivers to haul up to 100,000 pounds. While the bill does not include language critical to cattlemen, it is important to remember that this is just the beginning of a long process. The House has indicated it may move forward with a transportation bill by the end of this year. NCBA will continue meeting with members of Congress and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to help them understand why cattlemen’s concerns should be addressed in the highway bill.
Specifically, cattlemen urge Congress to include the following provisions in the highway bill:
- Give states the option to increase truck-weight limits to 97,000 pounds with inclusion of a sixth axle on trucks. Increasing hauling capacity will result in fewer trucks on the roads. We greatly appreciate Congressman Michael Michaud (D-Maine) and Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) for introducing the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (H.R. 763), and for Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) for introducing the Senate version (S. 747).
- Allow the purchase of permits for commercial vehicles to haul farm commodities up to 100,000 pounds.
- Create a uniform mileage exemption for farm use vehicles exceeding 26,000 pounds. We need uniformity and reciprocity of farm exemptions across state lines for drivers licenses and we strongly oppose any federal requirement of commercial driver’s licenses for farmers and ranchers. We are grateful to Congressman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) for introducing H.R. 3265, which waives certain driving restrictions during planting and harvest seasons for producers who are transporting agricultural goods. We also commend Congressman James Lankford (R-Okla.) for introducing the Farmers’ Freedom Act of 2011(H.R. 2414). This legislation exempts certain farm vehicles (including the individual operating the vehicle) from certain federal requirements (for a commercial driver’s license, drug testing, medical certificates and hours of service) governing the operation of motor vehicles.
To all of our producers and anyone engaged in agribusiness, we need your help. We need a commonsense highway bill that addresses the needs of rural America and we need it now. Contact your elected officials in the House and Senate and urge them to include these provisions in the highway bill to create a safer and more efficient transportation system in our nation.