The Journal Record: State groups praise farm trucking bill

The Journal Record

State groups praise farm trucking bill

March 23, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY - Federal legislation introduced last week aimed to reduce transportation fines for farm truck drivers hauling goods from state to state was praised by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and other agriculture industry leaders.

Senate Bill 639 by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe would address a problem for agriculture producers created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's definition of a commercial motor vehicle and its allowable weight, he said. As it stands now, the agency's limit of 10,001 pounds applies to vehicles involved in interstate commerce; states are allowed to raise that limit to 26,001 pounds for vehicles engaged solely in commerce within a single state.

As long as two neighboring states have reciprocity agreements in place, heavy farm trucks are allowed to cross state lines within 150 miles of their farms without penalty. But not all states have such agreements, Inhofe said - Oklahoma and Kansas, for example - which means the federal government's 10,001-pound limit applies as normal, as well as other regulations. That's the case even if those states have exemptions specifically for farm vehicles.

"Due to an arbitrary federal law, many Oklahoma farmers are being ticketed when they drive their goods across state lines," Inhofe said. "Even though these farmers' trucks are within the weight limits set by their home states and the states to which they are traveling, they are triggering an arbitrary federal weight regulation when they cross state lines in their farm vehicles."

Inhofe said he discussed the issue with several agriculture organizations, including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and Oklahoma Wheat Commission, before reintroducing legislation he first brought up in July.

Oklahoma farmer and rancher Terry Detrick, who also is president of the American Farmers & Ranchers industry organization, said he supports SB 639 because it would save farmers money and trouble.

"We applaud Senator Inhofe in recognizing the problem and working to find a solution for everyone involved," Detrick said. "Currently, the rules and regulations that farmers and ranchers must follow are designed for over-the-road haulers that travel all across the country; we are only talking about an exemption for farmers and ranchers that drive very few miles to get their products to the first point of sale and to the best market within their area."

Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Mike Spradling echoed Detrick's comments.

"Farmers and ranchers who engage in interstate commerce throughout this nation need the ability to conduct their business in a fair and efficient manner," Spradling said. "We believe that SB 639 will provide much-needed uniformity between state and federal law, which will allow for agricultural commodities to be transported more freely across state lines."

When a truck is considered a commercial motor vehicle, the driver must comply with the federal requirements of a professional truck driver. These requirements include possessing a commercial driver's license and medical examination certificate, having Department of Transportation markings on the vehicle, documenting hours of service and becoming subject to controlled substance and alcohol testing.

"While these requirements serve important purposes for long-haul truck drivers, they are unnecessary for farmers who carry these loads only a few times a year," Inhofe said.

The bill was introduced with the support of fellow Oklahoman Republican, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, as well as U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).