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Scopelitis Legislative News - June 2019

by Shannon M. Cohen, Prasad Sharma

June 26, 2019

Scopelitis Legislative News – June 2019

Scopelitis Legislative Services
The Scopelitis Law Firm recognizes that, to prepare for potential risks and strategic opportunities, businesses of all sizes must stay informed regarding regulatory and legislative change. This newsletter includes noteworthy developments or trends affecting transportation issues in Congress or state legislatures. To explore how we may provide the most well-tailored legislative services for you, contact the Scopelitis Legislative Services Practice

Federal Developments 

FY 2020 Transportation Appropriation Nearing Passage in the House
On June 4, the House Committee on Appropriations passed H.R. 3163, making appropriations for the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2020. The bill was wrapped up with four other FY 2020 appropriations bills (now H.R. 3055)  for consideration on the House floor with passage expected this week. The bill would provide $677 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an increase of $10 million from what was enacted last year. The legislation contains several controversial riders, including:

  1. A provision to prohibit funds from being used to review and issue decisions on State meal and rest break preemption petitions (a petition with respect to Washington is currently pending at FMCSA).
  2. A provision making Compliance Safety and Accountability (CSA) data publicly available (Congress had directed the data be removed from public display until concerns about data quality and crash risk predictability were addressed).
  3. A provision prohibiting FMCSA from promulgating or enforcing a change to Hours of Service (HOS) that eliminates the 30-minute rest break provision.

An amendment to strip those riders was offered during Committee consideration by Rep. Womack (R-AR) and Rep. Cuellar (D-TX), but voted down on an otherwise party-line vote. Those familiar with legislative attempts to amend the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) will recall passage of the riders in the House does not mean they will become law. The Republican-controlled Senate has yet to pass its version of the FY 2020 appropriations bill and then the differences between the two versions will need to be reconciled. 

Infrastructure Spending … the Soap Opera Continues
Despite optimism in many parts about the possibilities for a big, bipartisan infrastructure bill this year, Scopelitis attorneys have voiced healthy skepticism and may, unfortunately, be proven right. Although an initial meeting between President Trump and Democratic leaders agreeing on a $2 trillion figure for an infrastructure spending bill left optimists feeling hopeful, a follow-up meeting, intended to delve into funding options, was derailed. Before the meeting to discuss funding, conservative groups had furiously lobbied the President against increasing the fuel tax. While Members of Congress have not capitulated, the infrastructure spending bill process is essentially stuck. 

Attention is now being turned to a more modest highway bill reauthorization, but, even there, funding to keep up the most basic highway needs will be a challenge. 

State Developments

Autonomous Vehicles
States continue to introduce and enact legislation that seeks to establish ground rules for the use of various types of autonomous vehicles, including passenger carrying vehicles, cargo vehicles, and smaller last-mile personal delivery devices. These laws govern multiple aspects of the development of these models, including operator interaction and accessibility to the vehicles, safety features, and zones of operation. 

Infrastructure Funding
At the state level, infrastructure funding remains a hot topic. The use of alternative funding methods, such as electric or hybrid vehicle surcharges or flat fees earmarked for infrastructure improvements continues to gain popularity. As always, tolls continue to be raised as a potential highway funding mechanism. These approaches will continue to be of high interest as state budgets are negotiated and passed.

Portable Benefit Models and IC Status
On the independent contractor (“IC”) front, states, including Washington and New Jersey, are considering a portable benefits model that creates a fund through which ICs can purchase benefits such as workers compensation or health care coverage. The structure and feasibility of such models has not yet been fully established, but developments related to these efforts are likely to continue to gain traction as states seek alternatives to traditional employment models. For example, Uber and Lyft have floated such a proposal as a compromise position in response to California AB 5. 

Elsewhere, states are working to clarify IC status and to delineate which workers are employees and which are ICs. While some states continue to seek to sweep more workers into an employment relationship, other states seek to clarify when workers will be deemed to be ICs and to provide a certification method or bright-line test to establish IC status. Still other states take the approach of specifically identifying certain workers (including IC drivers) to more explicitly outline when such workers will be deemed to be ICs and when they will be deemed to be employees. These approaches vary widely by state and can have a significant impact on a company’s operations in any given state.

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News from Scopelitis is intended as a report to our clients and friends on developments affecting the transportation industry. The published material does not constitute an exhaustive legal study and should not be regarded or relied upon as individual legal advice or opinion. 

© Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, P.C. 2019. All rights reserved.  

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