On Monday, the beginning of the second week of a historic teacher walkout, the bold headline of the lead story of the Journal Record claims, “Legislator’s bill would deregulate his family business.” The prominently placed article is above the fold on the front page of the publication, so it would be easy to think it was the most important news of the day (notwithstanding the estimated presence of 50,000 teachers at the State Capitol) and had therefore been thoroughly vetted and carefully researched.
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Not only is this a non-story, the article is riddled with errors which are easily rectified by a simple perusal of the two bills in question: Senate Bills 1375 and 1380 by Senate author Mark Allen (R), Spiro.
Let’s start with the headline. This bill doesn’t deregulate anything, including Allen’s company. In fact, the very real consequence of these two bills will be to make Oklahoma highways safer because officers at the ports of entry will be properly trained and equipped according to federal standards, as well as having state and federal authority to safety inspect commercial trucks, a task they are currently not authorized to perform.
KGOU picked up the story, and while they asked Allen’s office for an interview, did not respond to Senator Allen’s request to submit emailed questions. The KGOU headline states: “Bill would change trucking rules, but sponsor’s business owns trucks.” This story consisted mostly of an interview of the first article’s author, Sarah Terry-Cobo, senior reporter at the Journal Record.
Allen suggests reporters actually read the bills so that journalistic ethics are not compromised and the accusation of “fake news” cannot be levied.
SB 1375 creates a new and standardized schedule for fining overweight trucks, creates a multiplier for frequent/repeat offenders, and as authorized by federal law, allows heavy-duty tow and recovery vehicles to clear the interstate without having to separate the load. SB 1380 consolidates and streamlines state government, making significant progress in truly creating a “Trucking One-Stop Shop”. This transfer would be very similar to when the Tax Commission transferred their authority to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in 2004. Now, as then, no services will be interrupted.
“Several statements in the Journal Record article are inaccurate,” asserted Allen. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for them to read the bills.
“The Corporation Commission already knows this, but it’s important for reporters and the public to know it too: it is not true that the bill will expand jurisdiction on for-hire motor carriers. It is incorrect to say the bill will effectively remove the state’s oversight of private motor carriers that weigh 26,000 pounds or more; and the bill does not eliminate commercial insurance requirements for private motor carriers unless they are hauling hazardous material.”
The simple answer to all of these erroneous statements is the same: no changes or additions were made to current law, and all administrative rules from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) will be transferred to the Department of Transportation (DPS).
“The State Legislature is comprised of members from all different walks of life, and they bring a wealth of information to the conversation, which helps the Legislature make good policy. Doctors and pharmacists who are elected are essential members of the Health and Human Services Committee, for example. This year we expect teachers to run for legislative office. Do the Ethics Rules require them to recuse themselves from all votes on education?” asked Allen.
“Perhaps reporters should ask a few questions of the Corporation Commission,” suggests Allen. “Ask the Corporation Commission how much revenue they will lose if these bills pass. Ask an OCC officer to show you his radio, as required by state statute. He will pull out a cell phone. Ask OCC if it’s true they delayed the state’s Core Certification for a span of about ten years, missed multiple deadlines, and cost the CVISN program a conservatively estimated $4M to $6M in federal grants that could have been used to pay for weigh station equipment, related technology and updated software.
“It is because of years of experience of owning trucks that I have extensive knowledge about the industry. I know the difference between proper enforcement and the abuse of authority simply to raise revenue. These bills will not deregulate my company; rather, they will standardize the safety inspection of commercial vehicles and bring our state policies in line with federal safety regulations already in place. Most states have commercial vehicle enforcement set up in this manner. Oklahoma is one of only two states still behind the times.”
Currently the Oklahoma Corporation Commission does not have the authority required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to safety inspect commercial trucks. This authority is granted by the Governor only to the Department of Public Safety.
“This legislation addresses serious safety concerns I’ve had for years,” stated Allen.
Testimony at a 2017 Transportation Committee interim study (17-42) revealed that every month Corporation Commission officers allow commercial vehicle carriers to travel on Oklahoma roads and bridges despite having critical safety issues that are likely to cause an accident or breakdown. OCC officers do not conduct federal safety inspections, nor are they authorized by FMCSA to detain an unsafe driver or vehicle. If an OCC officer stops a drunk driver, they must call the local sheriff or OHP to make an arrest. Overweight trucks are fined and allowed to proceed without offloading, compromising public safety. Troop S officers, on the other hand, are federally authorized, trained and required to correct Out of Service violations before travel is allowed to resume.
The bills address the timing and funding of the transfer process. The citation money will go into the revolving fund. Beginning July 1, 2018, ODOT will provide oversight of that fund and enter into an agreement with OCC to pay for enforcement from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. All enforcement staff will be transferred to DPS on July 1, 2019. OCC authority is not removed until July 1, 2019. The bill states that all OCC administrative rules will be transferred to DPS.
The article incorrectly states that the bill will shift about 30,000 truck citations to the district courts. In fact, violations will be run through an administrative court very similar to how it is currently done by OCC.
The underfunding of DPS is not a factor in these bills. Staffing at other DPS offices is not related to Troop S or its function.
“I am delighted to be able to allay Commissioner Hiett’s stated fears,” said Allen. “If SB 1380 passes, it is not true that the state would immediately become non-compliant with international trucking compacts (IFTA & IRP). Rather, the very good news is that OCC would still operate IFTA, IRP, UCR, etc., for the first year. Beginning July 1, 2019, DPS would take over responsibility and have the exact same rules that OCC is operating under today. OCC rules will be transferred to DPS on July 1, 2019. I will be glad to give Commissioner Hiett copies of the latest versions of the bills.”
Senator Allen feels the Journal Record article omitted the most important element of the story.
“The real issue here is public safety, which should be everyone’s primary concern. I have a private business that uses trucks and I have spoken with the truckers. My office has worked closely with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety to get this legislation to the place it is today. Both departments support these bills, all the way from the boots on the ground and their commanding officers, to the Secretary of Public Safety and the Secretary of Transportation. I have solicited input from every level of commercial vehicle enforcement. Oklahoma Corporation Commission officers who man the ports of entry agree their duties are restricted and their safety is compromised for want of a simple radio. I have personally spoken at length with the ODOT program director and with Troop S officers who enforce commercial vehicle safety every day, and solicited their expertise in crafting the language of these bills. We heard testimony from the Safety Program Manager of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at a Transportation Committee interim study in 2017.
“When ODOT and DPS agree on a safety issue, when the boots on the ground tell me this is the right thing to do, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration states that DPS is the only agency authorized by the Governor to conduct safety inspections and detain unsafe drivers and vehicles, and when most states do it the way this legislation proposes, it is past time to listen to the experts, and finally put safety first on Oklahoma highways.”