Weekly Column

Nebraska ag producers are good stewards of our state’s natural resources and responsibly manage 45.2 million acres of farm and ranchland. Because of our state’s landscape, we are home to a livestock industry that contributes $12.1 billion to the economy. What’s more, producers from across the country send their animals to The Good Life for finishing and harvesting before these nutritional protein products are sent to families around the world. 

Our livestock haulers play a unique role in our economy and the trucking industry. Unlike other haulers, they are responsible for transporting live, perishable products to their destination in a safe and timely manner. Haulers must follow commercial motor carrier regulations that require drivers to document their on-duty and driving time, known as their hours of service, on an electronic logging device (ELD). Yet, they also must ensure that the cattle and hogs they are transporting are not exposed to dangerous conditions.

These clashing requirements present a two-fold problem for our livestock haulers, who simply cannot stop to rest without it affecting their livestock. Mandatory off-loading and re-loading increases the animals’ risk of injury and exposure to disease. Also, hot and humid temperatures in the summer can be taxing for cattle and hogs, as well as the freezing, windy days of winter. I believe they should never have to choose between adhering to hours of service rules and the welfare of their animals.

This is hardly a new issue for our livestock haulers. In August of 2017, I was the first to bring the issue of inflexible hours of service to the attention of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao when she visited Nebraska.  

Subsequently, I have worked with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) leadership on ways to provide hours of service flexibility. Last February, I hosted the then-Acting FMCSA Administrator, Cathy Gautreaux, in my office to meet with representatives of Nebraska’s agriculture industry. The representatives expressed their concerns with the hours of service regulations and offered ways the agency could improve these regulations to provide more flexibility to livestock and ag commodity haulers. I have continued this conversation with FMCSA leadership, including Administrator Raymond Martinez, through additional meetings and correspondence.

In the Senate, I pushed to ensure that legislation which extended the ELD waiver through September 30, 2018, was signed into law as FMCSA continued to develop its guidance on ag haulers’ hours of service. Working with FMCSA leadership and my Senate colleagues, we made good progress. In May, FMCSA issued their updated guidance on the hours of service exemptions for ag haulers that provided some flexibility, especially at the beginning of a haul. While FMCSA’s guidance was a welcomed improvement, we can do better for our ag haulers.

That’s why I’m proud to share that the Senate recently passed my amendment that extends the ELD waiver for livestock haulers for one additional year through September 30, 2019. I worked alongside my colleague John Thune, the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to secure this amendment in a bill to fund government programs. We need this longer extension so we can continue to work towards finding common-sense solutions that ensure safety while providing flexibility for hours of service.

The ag industry is facing a tough economic environment, and we need to enact regulations that will provide more certainty for the Nebraskans who feed the world. I am committed to using this valuable one-year extension to work with my Senate colleagues and the administration to deliver hours of service relief to our livestock haulers so they can continue to drive our economy.

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