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Agri-Pulse

A Senate bill that would ease the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new trucking requirements for livestock and bee haulers has the backing of major U.S. livestock groups and a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers.

The Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act, introduced by Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., would exempt livestock haulers from federal hours of service requirements until crossing the threshold of 300 air miles away from their origin point. Haulers would also be able to take a break at any point in their drive without it counting against their trucking time, which would be stretched from 11 to 18 hours.

A bipartisan group of senators cosponsored the bill: Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“The unique demands on livestock and insect haulers must be taken into account when developing rules that affect them, because one-size-fits-all regulations simply don’t work in rural America,” Heitkamp said.

Under a DOT rule issued in 2015, truckers were required to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) in their rigs by last December – replacing paper logs of their trips. The ELDs are used to keep track of how long a trucker has been on the road, enhancing enforcement that requires 10 hours of rest for every 11 hours of driving.

Livestock groups have long sought to exempt their industries from the requirement, arguing that transportation of live animals should be treated differently than other forms of cargo. Live cattle, for example, can’t wait in the trailer for 10 hours while a driver gets the necessary amount of rest. Those animals would have to be unloaded, bringing biosecurity concerns into the equation.

There have been some struggles in getting the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to understand just how serious an issue this could be for livestock haulers. In fact, at one of the first meetings with farm groups, the ag coalition – consisting of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Livestock Marketing Association, and others – had to explain to administration staff that livestock are no longer shipped via rail to the Chicago stockyards for processing.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress there. They’re coming at this from a different perspective,” Michael Formica, a lobbyist with NPPC, told Agri-Pulse earlier this year. “Their mission is to protect safety on the highways. That is a worthy goal, and that’s their focus. Their focus isn’t on animal welfare or agricultural development.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association were both quick to offer their support for the bill.

NCBA President Kevin Kester said that “given the unique nature of livestock hauling – often very long distances between cow-calf operations and feedlots or processing facilities – and the fact that we’re transporting live animals that must be treated humanely – this legislation is vitally important, and I think it strikes a balance coupled with common sense for everybody involved.”

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hilker called the bill’s introduction “a historic moment for livestock and insect haulers to finally be afforded needed flexibility in the restrictive Hours-of-Service rules.”

A spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council said the organization “is pleased that Congress recognizes that the Hours of Service rules need to be reformed to addresses the unique challenges and needs of livestock haulers.”

The next challenge will be to enact the law before lawmakers head home for the mid-term elections this fall and before the DOT starts enforcing the ELD requirements.

The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced last December that they were providing ag haulers an extra three months – until March 18 – to adopt an ELD, but later extended the waiver for another three months. Anyone driving a load containing non-livestock commodities, including feed, fertilizer and produce, must begin using an ELD to record duty status by June 19. That’s when the FMCSA will begin issuing citations and out-of-service orders for non-compliance.

In March, Congress passed a spending bill that allows livestock and insect haulers to run without ELDs until Oct. 1.

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