The Democrats’ version of the highway bill retains many of the truck-centric policies of last year’s version with two notable add-ons: guidance on truck brokers and dispatch services and a policy for using truckers’ electronic logging devices (ELDs) for government research.

The $547 billion “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act,” issued on Friday, is expected to be considered before the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee on June 9.

“The INVEST in America Act puts a core piece of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan into legislative text — seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future,” said House T&I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “Let’s get this done.”

House Republicans, who released their own $400 billion highway bill in May, quickly criticized the Democrats’ plan, a sign negotiations over a five-year reauthorization of the FAST Act, which expires on Sept. 30 could stall.

“The ‘My Way or the Highway Bill 2.0’ doubles down on the same mandates, restrictive policies and costly diversions of infrastructure resources that led to last year’s failure to provide long-term investments in America’s roads and bridges,” Republican members of the House T&I Committee stated in a press release..

“Instead of working with Republicans to find common ground on a bill that could earn strong bipartisan support — something our Senate counterparts did successfully last month — this bill moves even further to the left to appease the most progressive members in the Majority’s party.”

The bill contains a slew of proposals opposed by trucking — small-business owner-operators in particular — that were included in the reauthorization bill that passed the House last year, among them:

Review of hours-of-service changes made in 2020.
Increasing minimum insurance requirements from $750,000 to $2 million.
Requiring automatic emergency brakes on new trucks.
Sleep apnea screening and testing rules.
Performance standards for side underride guards.
Time and/or distance caps on using a truck for personal conveyance.
Requiring driver safety scores be made publicly available.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) considers the increase in trucking insurance a poison pill. “Everyone knows this increase will do absolutely nothing to improve safety on our highways and will destroy small trucking businesses,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said Friday. “What good is a highway bill when it does more to support the unbridled greed of trial lawyers than truckers?”

The bill also has provisions not included last year. According to the text, within one year after the bill is enacted, the secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) “shall issue guidance to clarify the definitions of the terms ‘broker’ and ‘bona fide agents’ under part 371 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.”

With regard to trucking dispatch services, the bill would require the DOT secretary to:

Examine the role of a dispatch service in the transportation industry.
Examine the extent to which dispatch services could be considered brokers or bona fide agents.
Clarify the level of financial penalties for unauthorized brokerage activities.

The provision, as previously reported by FreightWaves, was backed by the Transportation Intermediaries Association, which filed a petition to the provision that is currently under review at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Also included for the first time is a provision that would allow data from ELDs to be used by FMCSA for transportation research.

According to the bill’s text, the DOT secretary “shall institute appropriate measures to protect the privacy of individuals, operators, and motor carriers when data obtained from an [ELD] is used for research pursuant to this section and such research is made available to the public.”

Related articles:

Truck brokers want Congress to call out illegal dispatching
Republicans spotlight bridge repair in $400B highway bill

Republicans to White House: Limit infrastructure spending to roads and bridges 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.