OMB concludes review of ag rule; hours-of-service rule still ‘pending review’

June 24, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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The FMCSA’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comment on the definition of agricultural commodity in regards to the hours-of-service regulations cleared the Office of Management and Budget on June 21 and is expected to be published in the Federal Register soon.

Meanwhile, the agency’s highly anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking for revised hours-of-service rules is still listed as “pending review” at OMB.

The rulemaking, which is promised to provide more flexibility to truck drivers within the hours-of-service regulations, was sent to OMB for review on March 28. OMB allows for up to 90 days for review of proposed rules. The 90-day mark will be reached on June 26. However, OMB allows for one 30-day extension, and there is no assurance a rule will clear. For example, a proposed speed-limiter rule was under review at OMB for more than a year before being killed.

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez, however, recently offered hope that the public may see the rulemaking soon. As part of his testimony last week to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Martinez said he expected the rule to be made public in “short order.”

The agency issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking about the hours of service in August 2018. FMCSA hosted five public listening sessions on the topic and received more than 5,200 comments. The majority of truck drivers said the hours of service allowed for no flexibility, a problem that was exacerbated by the electronic logging mandate, which started in December 2017.

While no definitive details of the revised hours of service have been revealed, Martinez and U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao have promised an increase in flexibility.

“You wanted flexibility. We listened,” Chao told a packed room of truck drivers at the Mid-America Trucking Show on March 29 in Louisville, Ky.

“Please know that we want to provide greater flexibility for drivers while maintaining the highest degree of safety as we move forward with this work,” Martinez told the Senate committee.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association helped spur the discussion on hours-of-service reform as submitted to FMCSA in February 2018. The petition asked for regulations to allow drivers to take a rest break once per 14-hour duty period for three consecutive hours if the driver is off-duty. OOIDA also asked the agency to eliminate the 30-minute rest break requirement.

FMCSA’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the definition of agricultural commodities was sent to OMB on May 17.

“FMCSA seeks comment to assist in determining whether, and if so to what extent, the agency should revise or otherwise clarify the definitions of ‘agricultural commodity’ or ‘livestock’ in the hours-of service regulations,” the abstract of the ANPRM stated in a Department of Transportation report on upcoming rulemakings.

Last week, Turfgrass Producers International submitted a request to FMCSA, saying that transporters of sod should be eligible for the hours-of-service exemption for agricultural commodities.

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.