Dec 03 2015

Fischer Praises Final Passage of Highway Bill

Over a Dozen Fischer Provisions Incorporated Into Final Agreement; Governor Ricketts, Mayors Stothert and Beutler Praise Passage

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This evening, the U.S. Senate passed the final version of a five year highway bill 83-16. U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, and an active member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was appointed to the highway bill conference committee. As a member of both committees, Fischer played a key role in drafting the bill and advocating for its passage in the Senate this summer. Fischer released the following statement this evening following final passage:

“For the first time in over a decade, Congress has come together and provided long-term solutions for America’s transportation challenges. Through bipartisan cooperation, this bill will provide certainty and authorize funding for our nation’s infrastructure over the next five years.

“The Senate led the way, and I’m proud to have been engaged in this historic bill – from the Commerce and EPW committee markups earlier this year to the final passage today. This final agreement includes many victories for Nebraska and will offer new resources for updating and maintaining our roads, highways and bridges for years to come.”

The bill now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law. It will authorize surface transportation projects over the next five years.

Since her time in the Nebraska Legislature, Senator Fischer has been a strong proponent of long-term transportation solutions. Fischer joined her colleagues to craft the Senate version of the highway bill, which passed in July.

Fischer Provisions in Final Highway Agreement

Senator Fischer announced the successful adoption of several key provisions she fought to include in the legislation. These provisions, which are listed below, were drafted in consultation with key transportation stakeholders in Nebraska, including officials from the Nebraska Department of Roads, local officials and community leaders, and both the public and private sector.

Increased Nebraska Transit Funding (Section 3015 and 3017): Nebraska’s transit programs will receive approximately 12 percent more in increased funding for the life of the bill. It establishes a new competitive grant for bus and bus facility funding. 

Categorical Exclusion Programmatic Agreement Template (Section 1315): Fischer’s provisions will improve the programmatic agreement process for categorical exclusion (CE) projects. This provision establishes procedures – based on a template developed by the Secretary of Transportation – which will allow states, in addition to the federal government, to determine which state or federal agencies must be consulted prior to beginning an infrastructure project. 

Technical Assistance for States (Section 1307): This provision will provide technical assistance from the Federal Highway Administration to help states provide their own certification regarding the appropriate level of environmental review of certain CE projects. This will prevent them from wasting time while waiting for the federal government to provide its assessments. 

Commercial Driver Pilot Program for Veterans (Section 5404): The FMCSA will be required to establish a pilot program to allow military veterans, who are between the ages of 18 and 21 and also possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to drive commercial trucks across state lines. The program also establishes a working group to evaluate, monitor, and provide recommendations to the DOT on the pilot program. Program participants will not be authorized to transport passengers, hazardous cargo, or larger truck configurations.

National Freight Program and Rural Corridors (Section 1116 and 70103): Provides guaranteed annual funding for Nebraska’s rural and urban freight corridors.  Under the separate freight grant program, there is a set-aside for both small and rural projects, which will be a significant benefit for Nebraska. 

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulatory Reform (Sections 5202 to 5205): Reforms flawed regulatory process at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to ensure better public and stakeholder participation in the process. It will also promote more transparency at the agency, improve responses to stakeholder petitions, and a strengthened cost-benefit analysis for rulemakings. Fischer’s provisions also require the FMCSA to inventory, update, and reissue outdated guidance documents every five years.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability Reform (Sections 5221 to 5225): This provision addresses the flawed Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) truck scoring program. It requires the FMCSA to commission an independent assessment of the program and issue a corrective action plan after receiving the results. Current scores must be removed from public view until the DOT Inspector General certifies these flaws are addressed.

Hair Testing for Commercial Drivers (Section 5402): Allows for hair testing of commercial truck drivers as an alternative form of drug testing. The provision requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to establish guidelines within one year for hair testing.

Ports Performance Freight Statistics Program (Section 6018): This will require yearly reporting by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics regarding metrics for top U.S. ports. It establishes a working group to design the metrics for reporting, including ports, federal stakeholders, rail and trucking industries, shippers, and port users. 

Hazardous Materials Endorsement Exemptions for Agriculture Producers (Section 7208): The provision exempts agricultural retailers, business employees and producers from obtaining a hazardous materials driver’s license for transporting diesel fuel. This applies to shipments containing less than 1,000 gallons if the container is clearly marked as “diesel fuel.”

PTC Plan Approval Clarification and ECP Braking Study (Section 11315d and 7311): This provision clarifies that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) does not have the authority to approve or disapprove Positive Train Control (PTC) plans that outline its implementation beyond 2018. It requires the FRA to report and publish the safety benefits of a billion dollar electronic braking mandate – or face repeal.

Crop Insurance Restored (Section 32205): The $3 billion in cuts to the crop insurance program are reinstated. Previously, the Bipartisan Budget Deal reduced the overall rate of return for insurance providers from 14.5 percent to 8.9 percent. This had put the most important and viable risk management tool available to agriculture producers at risk. 

Protections for Nebraska’s Community Banks (Section 32203): The conference report would reduce the rate of the dividend the Federal Reserve pays to its member banks with total assets greater than $10 billion from six percent to a floating rate. This mirrors the yield on 10-year treasury bonds, protecting the majority of Nebraska banks. The report would also reduce the assets within the Federal Reserve’s Capital Surplus Fund to $10 billion and redirect funds above this amount to the Highway Trust Fund. 

Praise for Highway Bill from Key Nebraska Stakeholders 

A long-term highway bill has broad support across Nebraska. The following Nebraska stakeholders released statements praising Senator Fischer’s work on the transportation bill:

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts released the following statement:

“The passage of the transportation bill today represents a new five-year commitment from Congress to building the 21st-century infrastructure we need to continue to grow Nebraska. Senator Fischer’s leadership and our Nebraska delegation’s commitment to this legislation have resulted in much-needed certainty for the state as we plan for future projects and work to determine how to best utilize all our transportation resources.”

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert released the following statement:

“Like many large cities, Omaha has an aging infrastructure. A long-term federal funding commitment will help us continue with needed infrastructure improvements across the city. We appreciate Senator Fischer's support of the FAST Act and the many ways it will benefit Omaha.”

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler released the following statement: 

“We appreciate the efforts of Senator Fischer and the Nebraska delegation to increase and stabilize the federal funding for street and transportation improvements. Lincoln’s economy and our high quality of life depend on projects and programs that these dollars help support.”

Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, released the following statement:

“It’s very gratifying to see Congress complete a five-year highway and transit bill. This renewed federal partnership with states comes at a critical time for the well-being of Nebraska and the whole country. I want to thank our congressional delegation for their unfailing attention to this important responsibility, and Senator Fischer in particular for her steadfast leadership.”

Curt Simon, executive director of the Omaha City Transit Authority (Metro), released the following statement:

“We are excited to extend our thanks to Senator Fischer as a member of the Conference Committee and the Nebraska delegation. Enactment of this new transportation bill will provide long term stability and allow for the much needed resources to upgrade buses in the Metro fleet. This is a big win for Nebraska and our Omaha metropolitan area.”

Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, released the following statement: 

“We truly appreciate Sen. Fischer’s work on the Conference Committee in representing the views and needs of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers. This deal not only provides five years of funding certainty for our nation’s highway infrastructure, it also provides relief to states looking to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers and ranchers without the threat of losing federal funding. Lastly, the agreement reached to avoid the $3 billion in cuts to the federal crop insurance delivery system helps ensure that the key risk management tool for Nebraska farmers will be available at a time when it is needed most.”

Deb Cottier, executive director of the Nebraska Northwest Development Corporation, released the following statement: 

“This major piece of legislation provides much-needed long-term certainty and flexibility for state and local governments and creates opportunities for improving rural highway corridors vital to safe travel, economic development, and energy development for Nebraska, the Heartland Region, and the United States. We have waited a long time for a multi-year bill, and we thank Senator Fischer for her leadership on this legislation.”

Larry Dix, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, released the following statement:

“The Nebraska Association of County Officials appreciates the efforts that Senator Fischer has put forth on the Federal Surface Transportation Act. Nebraska counties have worked with Senator Fischer for many years on infrastructure needs. She has served Nebraska counties very well through her leadership, when she was in the Nebraska Legislature, and now at the federal level. Senator Fischer’s experience knowing the needs of Nebraska counties roads and bridges is invaluable. Thanks to her leadership on infrastructure needs, we will have a bill that we can literally build on.”

Click here for a summary of the final highway agreement.

Click here for the full text of the bill.

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