Last week the U.S. Senate passed a transportation bill that includes important exemptions for farmers and ranchers from expensive regulatory requirements. We look forward to the House taking similar action.
Two provisions of the bill are being lauded by farm groups. One exempts farmers and ranchers operating farm trucks within 150 miles of their homes from the licensing and safety regulations that govern long-haul truckers. The second would allow farmers to exceed the maximum hours allowed long-haul truckers during harvest and planting seasons.
Federal law has long included several provisions regarding the operation of farm machinery and farm trucks that exempt farmers from having to obtain commercial driver's licenses or be subject to the record keeping and the drug testing required of CDL holders. Most states have similar exemptions in their motor vehicle laws.
Federal regulators in recent years have begun to question whether these exemptions applied when farmers transport goods across state lines, and have even suggested that all farm activities fall under the definition of "interstate commerce" because of the nature of commodity markets and the food distribution chain. Also in question was whether employees were covered by the exemptions, or were they hauling "for hire" when they drove in the course of their employment.
After farmers flooded legislators and the Transportation Department with complaints, the regulators last summer said they had no plans to impose more stringent rules. The Senate's bill clears up those questions, and takes the possibility of draconian regulation off the table.
That's a relief, but it's a job half done.
Similar legislation has been proposed in the House, which is expected to take up the transportation bill next month. We hope that no matter what various factions may think of some of the more controversial parts of the transportation bill that they agree on these common sense provisions.