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Stumping for president at an Iowa dinner on Aug. 14, 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said: "Now you tell me whether this is true or not. But one of my fellas just told me, he said that they're talking about a new regulation that if you drive your tractor ... across one public road, you're going to have to have a commercial driver's license. Get out of here! You're kiddin' me. I mean, what are they thinking?"
The former cotton farmer and Texas agriculture commissioner sounded more certain by the next morning, saying in remarks excerpted on CNN’s Aug. 15 "Newsroom": "Let me give you just a — this is such an obscene, crazy regulation. They want to make — if you are a tractor driver, if you drive your tractor across a public road, you are going to have to have a commercial driver's license. Now, how idiotic is that?"
Attention drawn! We looked into who’s wanting to impose such a mandate and found that such a proposal popped up this year in Illinois. But after the federal government declared last week that it does not plan new rules affecting farm vehicles, the Illinois plans were shelved, according to Guy Tridgell, a spokesman for the Illinois agency. "That issue is null and void," Tridgell told us.
Rewind: An Aug. 11, 2011, press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation says the agency’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reviewed farm-vehicle regulations this year in an effort "to make sure states don't go overboard in enforcing regulations on agricultural operators." At issue, the release says, was whether some states might view tenant farmers as common or contract carriers and as not exempt like other farmers from state commercial driver’s license requirements.
The vast majority of about 1,700 public comments the agency received in response "called for us to preserve the guidance that leaves states to carry out the farm exceptions as they have for many years," said the agency’s administrator, Anne Ferro. "We want to make crystal clear that we are not imposing any new regulations."
John Porcari, deputy secretary for the federal Transportation Department, told us that Illinois’ move toward requiring tenant farmers to have commercial driver’s licenses, which "defied common sense," touched off the government’s May request for wide public comment. That request, he said, was then widely and erroneously interpreted as a signal the agency was contemplating new transportation mandates for farmers.
The result, Porcari said, was "a bit of agricultural legend. Some people said we were attempting to require commercial driver licenses" in situations including a tractor crossing a road. "That wasn’t and isn’t the case," he said. "We are not, repeat not, requiring" them.
Why did even the suggestion of regulations cause a stir among farmers?
An Aug. 11, 2011, analysis by columnist Ken Root of the (Dodge City, Kan.) High Plains Journal summed up the issue. He noted that farmers have enjoyed exemptions from commercial driver regulations put in place by a 1986 federal act establishing the commercial driver's license to regulate truck drivers nationwide.
Change is likely, Root writes: "As more sectors of the transportation industry are required to comply with regulations, farmers are less likely to remain exempt because they are seen as holding an economic advantage over the commercial haulers.
"In grain-producing areas, literally all farms of any size have a semi-trailer grain truck," Root’s column says. "They use it to haul to the local elevator or farther away (even across state lines) if the price is higher. They haul for several months each year and get in the dump line with commercial operators yet they don't pay the same registration for their vehicles. That creates animosity and an opening for regulatory agencies to argue that one standard should be imposed on all vehicles and all drivers."
Root’s column, published before the federal announcement, says that Illinois is "targeting farmer-owned trucks to gain more revenue. The argument is that one standard should exist for all uses of a vehicle and equivalent fees should be paid."
Hours after he made the statement we’re checking here, Perry told the Des Moines Register that he’d based his declaration on information from U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "Senator Grassley, when I asked him about it last night — I’ve got to go with your senior senator," Perry said. The newspaper said Perry’s staff, "checking their BlackBerrys, said it might be a recent development that federal transportation officials dropped the idea."
The newspaper said Grassley, referring to the federal announcement, wrote in an electronic newsletter last week that common sense had appeared to prevail in the matter.
Far as we can tell, the regulation questioned by Perry hasn't even been proposed at the federal level. We rate his statement False.
Crain’s Chicago Business, news article, "Illinois farmers fight state over trucking," Aug. 1, 2011
U.S. Department of Transportation, press release, "U.S. Department of Transportation Reinforces Commitment to No New Regulations for America’s Agricultural Community." Aug. 10, 2011
Ken Root, opinion column, "A commercial driver's license to operate a tractor?," The (Dodge City, Kansas) High Plains Journal, Aug. 11, 2011
Telephone interview, John Porcari, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, August 15, 2011
Telephone interview, Ken Root, Des Moines, Aug. 15, 2011
Telephone interview, Guy Tridgell, communications manager, Illinois Department of Transportation, Chicago, Aug. 15, 2011
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