December 2018 Scopelitis Legislative Trends Newsletter
While over 1,000 state and local legislative seats shifted from Democrat to Republican control from 2008-2016, more than 300 of those state and local legislative seats have shifted back to Democratic hands. This may portend a period of increased friction in those states with split legislative/executive control, and could create changes in legislative priorities in those states.
At the state level, infrastructure funding remains a hot topic. While some states look to increase gas taxes in order to close the funding gap, other states are evaluating alternative funding methods, such as electric or hybrid vehicle surcharges or flat fees earmarked for infrastructure improvements. Expect discussion of such alternatives to continue as the new legislatures form at the beginning of 2019.
Portable Benefit Models
On the independent contractor (“IC”) front, states continue to look at methods to provide some employee-like benefits to ICs. One method that has been suggested in a few states, including Washington and New Jersey, is 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 remains to be seen, but developments related to these efforts are likely to expand.
DOT Funding on the Brink Again
As the year comes to a close, legislation to fund the government, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, once again is in flux. Unlike in years past, controversial policy riders on the DOT portion of what is expected to be another omnibus funding bill is not one of the major sticking points. Government funding is set to expire on December 7, but a deal is in the works for another two-week extension in light of President Bush’s passing. After that, issues surrounding funding for the border wall and protections for the special counsel’s investigation will need to be sorted out. Due to dedicated funding under the Highway Trust Fund, a government shutdown does not have the same relative impact on many DOT programs as for other agencies.
116th Congress to Meet January 3rd
The 2018 mid-term elections led to a slight expansion of the Republican majority (53-47) in the Senate and a turn to Democrats’ control of the House (235-200). With the new reality of divided government and a Presidential election in 2020, the prospects for a productive Congress are not bright. Although people in both parties point to an infrastructure bill as a beacon of hope, there are still very divergent views on how to pay for an effective bill. The incoming chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), has indicated support for raising the gas tax while considering other, longer-term funding mechanisms. The newly incoming chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), recently indicated an openness to increasing the gas tax if the President supports an increase. Another issue to be watched for potential bipartisan support in the 116th Congress is legislation to authorize 18-21 year olds to drive trucks in interstate commerce.
The Agencies Will Remain a Hotbed of Activity
While Congress may continue its unproductive ways, FMCSA will likely continue its deregulatory agenda, including several anticipated items with respect to the driver qualification/application process. FMCSA is considering a petition seeking a determination that California’s meal and rest break laws are preempted as incompatible commercial motor vehicle safety laws. Additionally, FMCSA has indicated an aggressive timeline for its consideration of changes to the hours of service rules, which suggests 2019 will see more consideration of that issue.
Scopelitis Legislative Services
Our goal is to help you understand how policy change may affect your transportation business. The Scopelitis Law Firm recognizes that, in order to prepare for potential risks and strategic opportunities, businesses of all sizes must stay informed regarding regulatory and legislative change. We want to remind our clients of our continued commitment to responsiveness during periods of rapid transformation at both the state and federal level.
To speak with a Scopelitis attorney about these issues, visit our Legislative Services Practice Area page or contact the Scopelitis legislative team – Greg Feary, Shannon Cohen, or Prasad Sharma – to further explore how we may provide the most well-tailored service for you. We offer a customized, concierge approach to addressing the issues most important to you, including direct access to our legislative team and tailored feedback that addresses your questions about policies and regulations that stand to affect your operations.
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The Scopelitis Legislative Trends Newsletter is intended as a report to our clients and friends on legislative 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.