House and Senate conferees agreed to a final conference report on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill (H.R. 4348) Wednesday night, which will extend highway programs at current funding levels for 28 months, through September 2014.
The surface transportation reauthorization conference report is being combined into a package with the National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization and legislation on student loans. The Senate is expected to vote on the package on Thursday and the House vote occurring on Friday.
The transportation reauthorization agreement includes provisions that the American Soybean Association (ASA) strongly supported, including the exemption of farm trucks from hours-of-service rules as well as other regulations regarding drug testing and requirements for commercial licenses. The exemption applies to all farm vehicles under 26,000 pounds that are hauling commodities, livestock and equipment and are operated by a farmer, rancher or their employee. Heavier trucks would also be exempt if they are within 150 miles of the farm or ranch.
Another provision that was strongly supported by ASA, The Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, was included, but was amended to be a "Sense of Congress" with no enforcement mechanism in the conference agreement. The agreement does include a requirement for Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to prepare a needs assessment for port improvements and submit the report to Congress along with commentary about how the president’s annual budget addresses those needs.
The final package does not include controversial provisions such as the Keystone XL pipeline approval, regulations for coal ash, or the $1.4 billion expansion of the Land and Water Conservation fund, which were each included in either the House or Senate version and were sticking points in the negotiations.