Capitol Hill Week

By | February 8, 2018 7:16 am

Senator Paul Bailey

Feb. 2, 2018 – By Senator Paul Bailey

The Senate’s Transportation and Safety Committee, which I chair, along with the Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, heard testimony this past week from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule.   The rule has caused much confusion and concern in our agricultural community.

The regulation places limits on how long and how far truckers can drive, and requires truckers to purchase and install an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) costing approximately $1,500. This mandate is of particular concern to farmers and transporters of livestock, whose cargo is more sensitive and requires flexibility. The ELD mandate was not written with consideration for all the different types of livestock transportation which includes, but is not limited to, cattle, pigs, poultry, fish, horse, pets, and wildlife.

The mandate went into effect Dec. 18, 2017, but the FMCSA implemented a waiver for transporters of livestock and other agricultural commodities that is in effect until March 18th, 2018. The concern for farmers comes as the extension deadline is set to expire soon.

Stefan Maupin, the Tennessee Farm Bureau’s Public Policy Director told our committees that he has petitioned the federal government to extend the waiver on livestock transportation for a year. He said, “Our first concern right now, in relation to ELDs, is when you have livestock that are being hauled to feed lots, for example out west or somewhere, and you have a driver that falls within the hours of service rules from the standpoint where they have to stop for ten hours. What do you do if you have a load of livestock in the middle of the day in July?”

My colleague, Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), also expressed concerns about the regulations, including fairness to farmers who lived at the edge of the state. The agriculture exemption only applies within 150 miles of the farm if traveling out of state.

“We’re trying to solve a problem that does not exist,” said Senator Niceley. “You can’t stop with 50,000 pounds of calves in the hot sun or even on a cold day. You have to keep them moving and get there.”

He noted that many of the farmers who transport livestock “wouldn’t dare drive dangerously” because they care so deeply about their animals. Niceley has introduced legislation which provides that no state money, personnel, and energy will be spent enforcing this law.

I will keep you updated on the status of the waiver request and this bill’s progress as we continue to work on this problem which affects our farmers.

In other news this week, Governor Bill Haslam delivered his eighth and final State of the State Address where he talked about Tennessee’s unprecedented successes, his legislative priorities and his budget proposal to fund state government for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Gov. Haslam reflected on the past seven years, working with the General Assembly to create a strong commitment to jobs, education and conservative fiscal policy that has resulted in significant accomplishments including:

  • The lowest unemployment rates in the state’s history and a job growth rate greater than 17 percent, with nearly 400,000 net new private sector jobs created;
  • The fastest-improving students in the nation, across math, reading and science, and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen;
  • With the proposed Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget, nearly $1.5 billion invested into K-12 education, with $500 million going to teacher salaries;
  • Cut $578 million in taxes, including a nearly 30 percent cut on groceries, phase out of the Hall Income tax, and elimination of the inheritance and gift taxes;
  • A cut in year-to-year spending by more than a half billion dollars;
  • Tennesseans have access to college free of tuition and mandatory fees through Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect; and,
  • Recognition as having the lowest debt per capita and lowest taxes as a percentage of personal income in the nation, and as one of the best managed states in the nation.

Issues in Brief

Veterans — The Senate Government Operations Committee heard testimony from Department of Veteran Services (DVS) Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder regarding how the department is working to serve veterans in Tennessee. Grinder was there to support Senate Bill 1534 to extend the department for another four years. Since 2013, the DVS has helped submit 54,000 claims for their veterans and their dependents, totaling $9.1 billion tax-free federal dollars. From 2012 to 2016, unemployment rate of veterans has fallen from 7.3 percent to 3.5 percent; the number of suicides per year has fallen from 197 to 186; and the number of incarcerated veterans has fallen from 2483 to 1307. In December 2015, DVS opened their fourth state veterans’ home in Clarksville. The legislation was recommended by the committee for passage and will next be heard on the Senate floor on final consideration.

Firefighters – Legislation that would provide a $600 supplement to volunteer firefighters to pay for their mandatory training was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Similar stipends are already provided to paid firefighters and law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 1582 entitles volunteer firefighters to the supplement upon successful completion of the course. Volunteer firefighters make up 80 percent of firefighters in Tennessee.

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