Although the Senate failed Tuesday to pass amendments renewing the biodiesel tax credit, two other amendments to the Highway Bill important to agriculture were approved.
One of the amendments, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and co-sponsored by Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will continue an exemption for agricultural truck drivers concerning regulations on maximum driving and on-duty times during the busy seasons of planting and harvest. The amendment would apply to drivers transporting agricultural commodities within 100 miles of the farm that produced them or those carrying farm supplies for agricultural purposes within 100 miles of the wholesale or retail distribution point.
The second amendment would exempt drivers of farm vehicles from obtaining a commercial driver's license and would provide and exemption for farm trucks from federal regulations that are aimed at the long haul trucking industry. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., brought this amendment to the bill along with co-sponsors Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. Both amendments have widespread support within the agriculture industry.
"Farmers and ranchers are not professional truck drivers and shouldn't be treated as such," National Cattlemen's Beef Association Director of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus said. "Hauling livestock to market two times a year is hardly the same as hauling goods across the country on a daily basis."
Bacus went on to say that NCBA and its members were pleased to see the U.S. Senate approve two commonsense amendments that differentiate agriculture from commercial transportation.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said that the hours of service exemption for agricultural truck drivers during planting and harvest seasons should be extended. Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman also voiced his support for both amendments, especially the vehicle exemptions.
"The amendment is important because some states exempt farm vehicles while others do not," Stallman said. "Under the current situation, merely the act of crossing state lines can trigger conflicting requirements for some farmers who are doing nothing more than hauling their own crop."
Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives. Representative Sam Graves, R-Mo., has introduced H.R. 3265, which waives certain driving restrictions during planting and harvest seasons. H.R. 2414, The Farmers Freedom Act of 2011 is similar to Merkley's amendment and was introduced by Representative James Lankford, R-Okla.
Instead of moving forward with its version of the Highway Bill, the House has decided to take up the Senate version. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate this week and will then move to the House for consideration.