Policy Matters – Government Relations

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Driver records hours of service

Hours of service proposals add flexibility

Photo: By Dec. 16, 2019, all motor carriers presently using an Automatic OnBoard Recording Device must switch to an Electronic Logging Device registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to record their driving hours.

Proposed changes to federal hours-of-service regulations could give more flexibility to truck drivers who carry home furnishings products, industry leaders say.

“The proposal doesn’t change the maximum allowable driving time, but it gives more flexibility to shift drive time and work shifts to mitigate impacts of certain variables like weather, traffic, detention, etc.,” said Rob Davis, chief client officer for Home Furnishings Association member Diakon Logistics in Warrenton, Va. Davis is a member of HFA’s Government Relations Action Team.

The changes were published last week by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a notice of proposed rulemaking.

“This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a news release.

Break required after eight hours

Drivers still could not put in more than eight consecutive hours behind wheel without at least a 30-minute change in duty status. But the following revisions are part of the new proposal:

  • Allowing drivers to meet the 30-minute break requirement by using on-duty, not-driving status rather than off-duty status. 
  • Modifying the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth.
  • Allowing one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
  • Modifying the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • Changing the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Steps in the right direction

Davis called the proposals steps in the right direction, noting that the short-haul changes can help drivers complete more deliveries in a single shift rather than incurring the cost of overnight stays.

The additional flexibility will be helpful, Sherri Garner Brumbaugh agreed. But the president and CEO of Garner Trucking Inc. in Findlay, Ohio, thinks some of the proposed changes are vague.

“There’s some level of concern that there’s an opportunity to take some license in interpretation,” she said, citing the bad weather exception which allows drivers to extend their workday if road conditions cause delays. “Someone could take advantage of that.”

Most drivers want to follow the law, said Brumbaugh, who also serves as second vice chairman of the American Trucking Associations. But they need clarity. “Right now there’s a little level of uncertainty.”

She also worries that some older drivers, whom she calls her “legacy drivers,” might become frustrated at more regulatory changes, which they’ve seen many times before, and decide to retire. And younger drivers might think the changes don’t go far enough.

Remaining issues are the difficulty in finding places to park the rig when driving breaks are required, and covering enough miles in a shift.

HFA members can comment on rules

Nevertheless, Brumbaugh is encouraged that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was responsive to industry input in crafting its proposed revisions. “I think they’re very receptive to listening to the industry,” she said.

American Trucking Associations, which said it will study the proposal in detail over the next few days and weeks, noted that rest-break flexibility, would let drivers use the on-duty, not-driving status to count as rest time they spend waiting for trucks to be loaded and unloaded, fueling or doing paperwork.

Regarding sleep time, ATA stated in a set of talking points that “providing opportunity to get sufficient sleep is important to reducing fatigue.”

The federal agency is seeking public comments on its proposed rules for the next several weeks. The regulations and instructions for submitting comments can be found here.

HFA members who rely on the transport industry to carry products should consider submitting comments. Brumbaugh believes the final rules could look different depending on public comments.

Doug Clark is content manager, government relations liaison and Policy Matters blog author for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at dclark@myhfa.org or 916-757-1167.

Cargo Ships

Some furniture removed from new tariffs lists

Some home furnishings products made in China have been spared from additional tariffs, at least for now.

The Office of U.S. Trade Representative announced Aug. 16 it will not add a 10 percent import tax to wooden- and metal-framed chairs, plastic chairs and furniture items for infants, including toddler beds, bassinets, cradles, strollers and children’s seats, Reuters reported.

New tariffs were otherwise scheduled to take effect Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, respectively, on products categorized as belonging to List 4A and List 4B, together valued at $300 billion.

Most home furnishings products already carry 25 percent tariffs.

The $114 billion retail furniture industry has been among the sectors hardest hit with price increases due to tariffs, Reuters reported.

Trump administration officials and the president contend that China is suffering more from tariffs than are American businesses and consumers, and that trade deal negotiations are continuing. The administration wants China to open its markets to more U.S. goods and stop forced technology transfers and the theft of intellectual property.

Doug Clark writes the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association.

picture shows a child climbing on a drresser

New York enacts Harper’s Law

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Harper’s Law Tuesday. The measure bars retailers in that state from selling new clothing storage units that don’t meet standards for furniture stability unless they also offer tip-restraint kits.

The law is named for Harper Ayva Fried of Monroe, N.Y., who died at age 3 in November 2016 when a dresser in her room fell over. Her parents, Aaron and Erica Fried, formed HarperSmiles, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the danger of tip-over accidents.

Harper’s Law takes effect in 90 days, or mid-November. It requires retailers to post safety warnings about the potential for chests and dressers to tip over when children attempt to climb on them or pull them.

Retailers were warned earlier this year by the Consumer Products Safety Commission against selling units that don’t comply with safety standards published by ASTM International.

ASTM revises voluntary safety standard

Earlier this month, that organization announced it will publish a revision to its standard for clothing storage units this fall.

“Specifically, the new revision lowers the height to include units 27 inches tall and above (previously 30 inches and above),” ASTM said in a news release. “The update also modifies label language on risk of tip-overs and use of wall restraints, and adds graphics showing that televisions should not be placed on top of units.

“ASTM International is expediting this revision, which is on track for final approval and publication within the next two months.

“’Our commitment remains to providing an open, consensus-based process that welcomes everyone to participate in voluntary standards development,’ says Katharine Morgan, ASTM International president. ‘This includes consumer advocates, representatives from government and testing laboratories, manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders.’”

Harper’s Law allows retailers to meet their obligations by offering tip restraints to customers. The Consumer Products Safety Commission launched its Anchor It! campaign in 2016 to raise awareness about tip-over dangers. The Home Furnishings Association strongly supports that effort.

The latest CPSC push includes new videos, posters and other materials in English and Spanish, a televised public service announcement and a tip-over prevention message shared by Latina influencers in Southern California.

Retailers have an important role

Separately, Commissioner Peter Feldman will speak at the American Home Furnishings Alliance Regulatory Summit in Colfax, N.C., Oct. 2. That event also will feature a retail panel addressing the tip-over problem. Participants will include Greg Crowley of Crowley Furniture & Mattress and Jameson Dion of City Furniture. Both businesses are members of the Home Furnishings Association and are leaders in safety. HFA’s government relations liaison Doug Clark will moderate the panel.

CPSC has never stopped promoting the Anchor It! campaign, Public Affairs Officer John Hoellwarth said Tuesday. It just refreshes materials periodically.

It also updates statistics. While noting a small decline in accidents over the past year, Hoellwarth said the numbers are still much too high. Yet most cases don’t generate national headlines. Efforts to increase awareness compete with other news, and even terrible tip-over tragedies tend to attract only localized coverage.

Furniture retailers have an obligation to educate the public, too. They should advise customers to anchor dressers and chests; they can download and display CPSC safety posters and cards; and they can put CPSC’s latest safety video on their websites.

And in New York, retailers must comply with Harper’s Law.

Doug Clark writes the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association.

kansas revenue secretary

Kansas aims to tax all online sales

Photo: Kansas Revenue Secretary Mark Burghart, left

Kansas is one of a few states that still doesn’t require remote online retailers to collect sales tax on purchases made by its residents. Not that it doesn’t want to.

The state legislature this year approved a measure to do just that. But it was included in a larger tax package that was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly. Lawmakers could not override her veto, so the issue was put to rest for this year.

Except that it wasn’t. With the legislature adjourned until next year, Kansas Revenue Secretary Mark Burghart took matters into his own hands. Under existing law, he said, out-of-state vendors are obligated to collect taxes on sales into Kansas. The state was prevented from enforcing the law, Burghart said, only because of court rulings. But that obstacle was removed by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which cleared the way for states to demand sales-tax collections.

Revenue secretary acts

Beginning Oct. 1, Burghart ordered, those out-of-state vendors must start to pay.

Significantly, he allowed no exceptions.

Other states have set thresholds, giving a pass to vendors whose sales are relatively small. South Dakota fixed the amount at $100,000 a year. Vendors with annual sales less than that into the state aren’t required to collect sales tax.

Burghart argues that existing Kansas law doesn’t allow him to set a threshold. All sales are subject to taxation, whether the sales are made online or in brick-and-mortar stores. Many furniture retailers would agree with that approach since it creates a more level playing field.

A burden on small merchants?

However, in the Wayfair ruling, then-Justice Anthony Kennedy addressed the objection that a sales-tax collection requirement would place a burden on small businesses. Writing the majority opinion, he noted that “South Dakota affords small merchants a reasonable degree of protection. The law at issue requires a merchant to collect the tax only if it does a considerable amount of business in the State.”

Diane Yetter, founder of the Sales Tax Institute in Chicago, said Kansas would make a mistake by not allowing small merchants that protection. “I just think Kansas is setting itself up for a lawsuit — and embarrassment, truthfully,” she told The Associated Press.

The Kansas Department of Revenue believes the tax will bring in between $20 million and $40 million a year, which is a strong incentive to get this right. If Burghart’s action is challenged, the courts may settle the question of whether states must exempt small online merchants from the sales-tax obligation. Or, the Kansas legislature could return to the matter next year and set a threshold, which could put an end to legal proceedings. 

Follow government-relations news in HFA’s Policy Matters blog.

Government Building

Regulatory Summit features HFA members’ safety initiatives

Furniture tip-over will be examined from the retailer’s perspective at the American Home Furnishings Alliance Regulatory Summit Oct. 2-3 in Colfax, N.C. The Home Furnishings Association will play a prominent role in the event.

Greg Crowley

Greg Crowley, owner of HFA member Crowley Furniture & Mattress, makes safety a part of the culture at his three Kansas City, Mo.-area stores. In addition, his business has a close bond with Charlie’s House, a local nonprofit dedicated to making homes safer for children. Together, Crowley and Charlie’s House are working hard to prevent tip-over accidents.

HFA member City Furniture of Tamarac, Fla., conducts its own furniture stability testing under the UL Verification program. Jameson Dion, managing director of global sourcing for City Furniture, and Greg Crowley both will discuss the important issue of tip-over prevention at the Regulatory Summit. You can register to attend here at the HFA member rate of $199.

To read more about Crowley’s commitment to safety and its partnership with Charlie’s House, see our next Government Relations newsletter coming later this week. For more government relations news, check out the association blog.

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