Update on Shutdown & Debt Ceiling:
Oct. 11th marked the 11th day of Federal government shutdown, with no clear end in sight. As many expected, funding for FY2014 has been lumped in with discussions about the looming debt ceiling increase, which has an October 17 deadline. House Republicans have proposed a six-week ‘clean’ increase to the debt ceiling, which would push resolution of the matter back until Thanksgiving. However, this plan does not address the shutdown. Republican leaders have indicated they want to alleviate the pressure caused by the debt crisis in order to address the funding issue separately. While the White House has indicated it will consider the House proposal, Senate leaders are moving ahead with their own plan to address the debt ceiling, a proposal which would increase the debt ceiling through December of 2014. This strategy is not expect to go far, as it faces opposition from both House and Senate Republicans. However, in addition to the political posturing and ongoing blame game, it appears some actual progress is being made. A bipartisan group of Senators has begun working on an alternative solution that would address both issues. The discussions are in the early stages and nothing has been endorsed by either party’s leadership, however the fact that the two parties are talking and looking to negotiate a solution is certainly a step forward.
Update on Relevant Regulations:
PHMSA Issues Final Rule Regarding Opening Hazmat Packages
On October 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Final Rule, reaffirming that agency inspectors are authorized to open packages in transit if they suspect the package presents a safety hazard or is not in compliance with hazardous materials safety regulations. The rule is necessary to bring the Hazardous Materials Regulations in line with changes made by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2012. The Final Rule is effective November 1.
FMCSA Issues MAP-21 Final Rule
On October 1, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a Final Rule adopting certain regulations required by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Because the changes made are mandated by MAP-21 and not at the agency’s discretion, no rulemaking process is necessary for the 17 changes. Specifically the rule:
- Reduces length of time from 18 months to 12 months for new entrant safety reviews;
- Increases penalties for violating the reporting and recordkeeping requirements;
- Increases civil penalties and authorizes the DOT Secretary to suspend, revoke, or amend the registration of a motor carrier, broker, or freight forwarder;
- Allows FMCSA to place a motor carrier out of service for operating vehicles without registration;
- Adds the definition of a “foreign commercial driver;”
- Clarifies the Secretary’s authority to suspend a foreign commercial driver’s license for committing a disqualifying offense;
- Authorizes FMCSA to suspend, amend, and revoke foreign motor carrier operating authority registration;
- Prohibits employers from allowing employees to drive when the employer knows or should know that drivers CDL is suspended or revoked;
- Clarifies FMCSA’s authority to demand to inspect a motor carrier or broker’s land, building, equipment and records;
- Adds a $25,000 penalty for motor carriers operating CMVs in violation of an out-of-service order issued following a determination that the carrier is unfit or an imminent hazard;
- Increases penalties against motor carriers for operating following a determination of unfitness;
- Removes “ability to pay” from the list of considerations in determining penalty levels;
- Changes the meaning of “imminent hazard” to include the definition at 49 U.S.C. 521;
- Identifies local government agencies as MCSAP partners and establishes four program goals;
- Requires that FMCSA publish notices of pilot programs on the agency’s website, but removes the requirement that they be published in the Federal Register;
- Sets a minimum financial security of $75,000 and extended the bond requirement to freight forwarders; and,
- Provides for penalties of up to $75,000 for violations of regulations related to the transportation of hazardous materials and $175,000 in the event of death, serious illness, severe injury or substantial destruction of property.
The Final Rule was effective October 1 and Petitions for Reconsideration are due December 2, 2013.
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