FRA Issue Update - 6/14/19

Congressman Gallagher Touts Safe Routes Act in Transportation Committee Hearing

On Wednesday, June 12, the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing to discuss the state of trucking in America. Transportation Committee Chair Congressman DeFazio, in his opening comments, stated that the trucking industry is at a tipping point. He went on to discuss the need to retain drivers with better pay and benefits and advocated the importance of safety in the trucking industry. Although the hearing focus remained on safety, the driver shortage, and better pay and benefits, the FRA supported Safe Routes Act was touted by Representatives Gallagher and Westerman.

Gallagher promoted his bill, the Safe Routes Act (H.R. 2453) that would improve the safety of trucks hauling raw forest products. The bill would allow logging trucks to access the safer Interstate System at legal state weight limits. “Giving those logging trucks the ability to navigate safer routes would increase safety and result in more efficient use of fuel for that truck,” said Gallagher. Gallagher additionally encouraged the committee members to support the Safe Routes Act. Congressman Westerman provided specific comments regarding the transportation of logs in his district. Westerman identified a safety concern where several hundred trucks daily pass through two college campuses on a narrow two-lane road because they can’t use the Interstate System at Arkansas legal state weight limits. He stated that this situation could be avoided if these trucks had access to the interstate to bypass the college campuses. “If there is no room for exemptions or common sense then we will continue running log trucks down a two-lane road between two college campuses, said Westerman. FRA’s goal is to build broad support for both H.R. 2453 and S. 1509, its companion in the Senate, on a bipartisan basis so that the provisions of the legislation are a good candidate for inclusion in the highway bill which is up for reauthorization in 2020. 

U.S. Forest Service Proposes to Expedite Forest Management Decisions for At-Risk Forest Lands

On Wednesday, June 13, the Forest Service released a proposed rule that allows them to expedite certain forest management projects to improve forest health. The proposed rule includes an expansion of categorical exclusions (CEs). CEs are important tools that provide land managers the ability to quickly manage forests that are at risk. Forest Service Chief, Vicki Christiansen, stated that the proposed rule could get projects from planning to implementation in half the time it currently takes. This is important, as the current environmental review process is lengthy and not timely to address serious forest health issues faced by our National Forests. The proposed rule changes are subject to a 60 day comment period. Barring litigation, the Forest Service hopes to have a final rule by summer next year. Approval of this rule will allow the Forest Service to manage more acres in a shorter period of time, improving forest health, productivity, and timber supply.

H-2B  Visas - Progress Made in House Appropriations to Secure more Visas for FY2020

A letter signed by 58 Representatives was sent to the House Appropriation Committee Leadership requesting them to include an H-2B returning worker exemption, or other meaningful cap relief, in Fiscal Year 2020. This letter was sent prior to the FY 2020 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill mark-up. During the mark-up, Congresswoman Pingree (ME) advanced an increase in the number of H-2B visas through an amendment to the DHS appropriations bill.  FRA worked with the H-2B coalition to secure passage of this amendment. The amendment would provide DHS the authority to add up to 63,000 additional visas in FY2020—nearly doubling the number of H-2B visas available. Pingree’s amendment makes the increase in the H-2B cap mandatory, not discretionary. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration. The Senate is due to start its appropriations process in the coming weeks.

H-2B Visa Application Change

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) has received Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval for revisions to the H-2B Application for Temporary Employment Certification (Form ETA-9142B) and corresponding appendices, related forms and instructions. These revisions  are designed to better align information collection requirements with the Department's regulations. These changes are expected to provide greater clarity to employers on regulatory requirements, standardize and streamline information collection to reduce employer time and burden preparing applications, and promote greater efficiency and transparency in OFLC's review and issuance of labor certification decisions under the H-2B program. This new form must be used for all new H-2B applications beginning July 3, 2019. To obtain a copy of the new H-2B application form and its instructions, please click here.