Weekly Column

Oct 19 2020

The HAULS Act

**Click here to download audio of this week’s column**

 

Nebraskans know better than most Americans how important the agriculture industry is to our daily lives. From corn and soybean farming to cattle ranching, agriculture is tied to one in four jobs across our state.

We are fortunate to have such high-quality products so close to home. Other states recognize this, too, and their demand for Nebraska livestock and produce makes us one of the largest agricultural exporters in the country.

To get their products where they need to go, Nebraska producers rely on ag and livestock haulers. They are among the most reliable in the transportation sector – they have to be when they’re carrying perishable products like cattle or fresh vegetables.

Unfortunately, ag and livestock haulers face regulatory barriers that make it challenging to deliver these products. And while these rules were made with good intentions in mind, many of them do not account for the unique circumstances ag and livestock haulers face.

One example of this is hours-of-service (HOS) requirements. These rules limit the number of hours that truck drivers can be on the road at a time on both a daily and weekly basis. The reason for this is obvious: All of us are safer when we know the big-rig operator next to us on the highway is well-rested and alert. 

But these one-size-fits-all requirements do not recognize unique trucking operations, especially when it comes to ag and livestock haulers. When you are transporting a live product, it’s not always possible or practical to stop in the middle of a haul. Not all hauls are the same, and we should adjust transportation policy to account for that.

This is why I recently introduced the Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety Act, or HAULS Act. This bill would give ag and livestock haulers more flexibility to account for those unique circumstances.

The HAULS Act would do away with a provision of a decades-old law that says ag and livestock haulers are only exempt from HOS requirements during state-designated planting and harvesting seasons. Though most states have year-round planting and harvesting seasons, not all do. Eliminating this limitation would make sure federal requirements are applied consistently across all states and give ag and livestock haulers more certainty.

The HAULS Act would also amend another federal statute that defines “agricultural commodities” in a way that even the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has recognized is “circular and ambiguous.” My bill would provide a clearer definition of agricultural commodities based on feedback from many of the organizations that work with them every day.

Finally, my bill would authorize an exemption from HOS requirements when an ag or livestock hauler is within 150 air-miles of the destination of a haul. Livestock haulers in particular are very limited in where they can park, because stopping requires them to tend to their livestock and meet additional, strict requirements. These haulers should not have to choose between complying with HOS requirements or animal welfare.

Put together, these three changes will make it less challenging for ag and livestock haulers to do their jobs safely. They may not sound like they will affect you if you don’t drive a truck for a living, but clearer requirements can make the transportation industry more safe and efficient, and we will all benefit from that.

I have worked with many Nebraskans on the HAULS Act, and I was proud see it receive endorsements from groups like the Nebraska Cattlemen, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, and the Nebraska Grain and Feed Association. Importantly, after introducing the bill, I also received a letter signed by more than 100 ag and livestock groups sharing their support for the legislation.

The changes the HAULS Act would make have been necessary for a long time, but COVID-19 has shown how important smart transportation policy can be. I look forward to passing the HAULS Act and giving our nation’s ag and livestock haulers the flexibility they need.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.