FRA Issue Update - 5/15/20

Hours of Service Final Rule 

On May 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule that changes the Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations. The FMCSA stated that the rule will increase safety on America’s roadways by updating existing regulations for commercial vehicle drivers. The changes will become effective 120-days following the publication of the rule in the Federal Register, which will likely be next week.  

Although the rule does not change the amount of drive time, which remains at 11-hours, it does make the following changes that will benefit the wood supply chain. The final rule: 

  • Lengthens the on-duty time from 12-14 hours and increases the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 to 150 air-miles for the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers (including logging). Drivers under the short-haul exemption are not required to keep records of duty status.
  • Extends the adverse driving conditions exception by two hours over the maximum window during which driving is permitted. This will allow drivers to extend their drive-time window and their time on-duty by two hours if they encounter adverse conditions such as weather or traffic congestion.
  • Provides greater flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allowing the suspension in driving time to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.

FRA submitted comments on the proposed rule in October 2019 and has been actively involved in the two-year process to improve the HOS Regulations.

FMCSA Extends COVID-19 HOS Exemption

The FMCSA has issued another extension to its suspension of HOS for commercial vehicles in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In a May 13 notice, FMCSA announced that the exemption will now expire on June 14, 2020. The loads covered under the exemption include food and paper products and precursor raw materials to manufacture those products.

H-2B Guest Worker Visas

FRA led an effort with allied associations to have Members of Congress send a letter to President Trump that requests he exempt H-2B visas for forestry workers. The House Member letter is being led by Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4) while the Senate letter is being led by Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Mike Crapo (R-ID). FRA has been reaching out to House and Senate Members encouraging them to sign on to the letters. 

FRA prepared a briefing paper for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this week that outlined the importance of non-immigrant workers to accomplish critical forestry work. The DHS is amenable to reviewing data that supports exempting H-2B forestry workers from the pending Presidential orders that will pause non-immigrant labor to the U.S.

FRA supported an H-2B Coalition letter that was mailed to President Trump today. The letter urges the President to keep H-2B visas available for seasonal businesses and assures him that H-2B employers are making every effort to recruit American workers, but that seasonal employers still need access to H-2B workers to meet labor demands.

Lake States Region Bat HCP—Comments Submitted

Today, May 15, FRA submitted comments on the Lake States Region Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), chapters 4 and 5, on behalf of signatories that included associations and companies. Chapter 4 provides a take assessment and Chapter 5 provides conservation measures, including forestry practices, to mitigate harm or take of the covered bat species. The mitigation measures outlined include maintaining a 150-foot buffer around roost trees and implementing state leave tree forest management guidelines during a timber harvest. The comments that FRA submitted make several recommendations to improve the HCP. FRA has been engaged over the last two years with the agencies preparing the HCP. 

Completing the HCP in the next 18 months is critical as a recent court decision has directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to reassess the listing status of the northern long-eared bat. It is likely that the USFWS will list the NLEB as endangered following the assessment. An HCP, when a species is listed as endangered, would need to be in place to continue forest operations. FRA encourages others in the U.S. to use the Lake States Region Bat HCP as a model in the development of a Bat HCP in your region or state.

FRA, the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), collaborated to prepare the comments on behalf of the forest products industry

COVID Stimulus 4.0

The House will vote today on a three trillion-dollar economic stimulus package titled the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act—H.R. 6800). The legislation features financial aid for state and local governments totaling one trillion dollars. Roughly half of that total figure-—$500 billion—is earmarked for state governments, with $375 billion dedicated to localities and the remainder to tribal governments and territories.

The bill also includes direct cash payments to individuals and dependents of up to $6,000 per household and would extend a $600 weekly increase to unemployment insurance into January 2021. H.B. 6800 does not add additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, but it would extend the program to Dec. 31 from its current June 30 end-date and make other changes regarding which firms are eligible and how loan proceeds can be spent.

H.R. 6800 includes several tax provisions. Notable among them is language repealing provisions in the CARES Act that allowed for net operating loss carry back of up to five years.

The legislation will pass the House on largely a party line vote today but is seen as a messaging bill for Democrat priorities and will not move in the Senate. Discussions are ongoing in the Senate about the outlines of the next stimulus package, but it appears that any legislative action will occur in June at the earliest. 

If you have any questions, please contact FRA’s Director, Government Affairs Tim O’Hara, (218) 390-7965, [email protected] or FRA President Deb Hawkinson, (202) 296-3937, [email protected].