May 25, 2023

Lead sponsor of TIA-backed truck safety bill withdraws support


WASHINGTON — A Massachusetts lawmaker took what he called an “unusual step” by withdrawing support for legislation aimed at improving motor carrier safety standards and for which he was an original co-sponsor. But a truck broker lobby backing the legislation disputed his understanding of the bill’s purpose.

The Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard Act, which was debated at a supply chain hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this month and supported by the Transportation Intermediaries Association, establishes an interim motor carrier rating standard until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issues a final rule overhauling its current system. TIA and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledge the system is woefully inadequate.

During a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup of the bill on Tuesday, however, Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who introduced the bill in February with Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., said that new analysis provided to him by committee staff just hours before the markup led him to conclude that the bill as currently written would not improve safety in the short term.

“We just learned this morning … that the three things it does to establish [the] interim standard already exist,” Moulton told committee members.

He was referring to language in the bill stating that for a broker to be considered “reasonable and prudent” in contracting with a carrier, the broker must verify that the carrier selected has a valid registration, carries minimum insurance and is not deemed unfit to operate by FMCSA.

As noted earlier during the markup, carriers must already have those three requirements in place to legally operate. Because that is the case, “the interim standard is not up to snuff,” Moulton concluded.

“It does not in the interim period do anything to improve highway safety. I’m not satisfied with the interim steps that it takes. So I’m going to take the unusual step of voting against the bill that I have been part of co-leading in the hopes that we can improve it and get it to the point where it truly does improve highway safety — not just in the long term but in the short term as well.”

Asked to comment, Chris Burroughs, TIA’s vice president of government affairs, acknowledged that motor carriers are already required to have in place the three criteria outlined in the bill in order to legally operate. “But that’s not the point of the legislation,” Burroughs told FreightWaves.

“The point of the legislation is that there are no standards currently that require brokers and shippers to check to make sure the motor carrier has those things in place when they contract with them. This legislation would put that standard in place.”

The bill currently has 15 Republican and four Democratic co-sponsors. A Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, withdrew support from the bill earlier in the week.

Some House Democrats, such as Rick Larsen of Washington, consider the bill to be less about boosting safety and more about giving brokers liability cover in cases where the motor carriers they hire are involved in crashes.

“This bill is a response to litigation, not supply chain challenges,” Larsen said during the markup.

Even though the bill was approved and moved out of committee, losing the support of a key sponsor “doesn’t help” its chances going forward, Burroughs said.

“The reality is, the other side of the Capitol is controlled by the Democratic Party, and we’ve been working to get that bipartisan support in both chambers. Unfortunately a lot of that effort was lost yesterday. We’ll have to regroup and see where we go from here.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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