Last week, more than 70 IFDA members went to Capitol Hill during the Washington Insight Conference to speak directly to lawmakers and provide insight into how the foodservice distribution industry drives the U.S. economy. The strongest organizations in Washington are those that can leverage their grassroots strengths to connect directly with lawmakers. Distributors have tremendous stories to tell about your people, your customers and the work you do in the community. This week was an opportunity both to tell these stories and to ask lawmakers to help be a part of the solution for critical industry issues including:
The DRIVE-Safe Act
The driver shortage has become the top priority for foodservice distributors and bringing younger drivers into a profession where the average age is 49 is essential not only to this industry but every supply chain in the economy. The DRIVE-Safe Act, HR 5358, would create a path for companies to recruit younger drivers into the industry while requiring proper training to ensure safety. Building support for this legislation was the top priority for attendees during their visits with lawmakers.
While there are many reasons for the driver shortage, one of the key regulatory hurdles is the requirement that drivers must be 21 to drive in interstate commerce. The DRIVE-Safe Act, introduced by Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN), would create a two-step apprenticeship program that would provide companies with the ability to recruit and train younger drivers to join the profession. The legislation was introduced in late March and the next step in the process is working to add Members of Congress willing to cosponsor the bill.
Currently the bill has 15 cosponsors, including Democrat Colin Peterson from Minnesota. At the meetings that took place during the Washington Insight Conference, IFDA members asked their lawmakers to cosponsor the bill and three were immediately added that evening. We are expecting additional lawmakers to join the bill in the coming days but still have a ways to go. Requests from constituents are a major factor in helping lawmakers to decide to support the bill and IFDA members can play a critical role. A letter you can send directly to your Member of Congress is HERE and if you have a relationship with your lawmaker or their staff, please contact them directly and urge them to cosponsor HR 5358.
As we look ahead at how to move the bill forward, there are a number of potential pathways. The bipartisan nature of the bill, especially if we are able to increase the number of Democratic sponsors, could create the opportunity to move the bill through regular order from the committee to the House floor. There is not a great deal of major legislative activity expected for the rest of the year and Congress could be looking for opportunities to pass easy bills. Sufficient support from both sides of the aisle would make this bill a very attractive option both for committee and House leadership. The major obstacle to this process would be the relatively short time available before Congress departs for the November elections. Despite the limited congressional agenda, there will be at least some must-pass bills and the spending bills will certainly need to get done. These will also provide an opportunity to add DRIVE-Safe if we can demonstrate the right level of support.
On the Senate side, progress has been made to identify a potential sponsor for the legislation and we are hoping to move forward with a bill in the next few weeks. The Senate legislative process can be more complicated than the House but it also starts with persuading Senators to support the bill. We will keep you updated on any developments on the Senate side.
The federal preemption issue was the other major action item for Conference attendees and it is a key industry issue. In 1994 language was added to the FAA Authorization Act to preempt state meal and rest break requirements for drivers but that has eroded over time due to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which upheld California's different regulations. As a result, the plaintiff's bar has brought lawsuits against trucking companies including IFDA members for not properly implementing these requirements. We are also beginning to see similar lawsuits in other states, many of which have such laws, though not all apply to drivers. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) will offer an amendment this week to the FAA bill to restore federal preemption over these state rules. A letter to send to Members of Congress asking them to support the amendment is available HERE.