The National School Transportation Association and the United Motorcoach Association represent private school bus companies and motorcoach operators, respectively. As both organizations work closely with the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress, sometimes issues begin in the regulatory arena and end in the legislative arena. In the case of potential burdensome new mandates regarding sleep disorders for their drivers, their voice was most powerful when joined together in a coalition with other affected industries.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of DOT was considering issuing guidance to the medical community regarding screening, testing and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Choosing to implement such sweeping requirements by guidance, outside of the notice and comment and cost-benefit protections of formal rulemaking, was alarming to the entire commercial motor vehicle industry given the potential impact of what was being proposed would be over $100 million on the combined industries in the first year alone.
On behalf of the two bus trade association clients, Prime Policy Group first helped the clients work with FMCSA for over a year to attempt to educate them on the sweeping impacts of their proposal and dissuade them from moving forward. When that failed, Prime Policy Group led the first industry effort on Capitol Hill on this issue. UMA and NSTA prominently showcased this issue as a top priority during their respective annual spring Congressional “Fly-In.” These Fly-Ins, coordinated by Prime Policy Group, gave association members an opportunity to meet with their elected officials on policies impacting their business operations. Almost all members of Prime Policy Group accompanied NSTA and UMA members to their visits during the Fly-Ins and followed up with Members’ offices on this issue. Constituents delivered the message that guidance on sleep apnea would have a devastatingly negative impact on the school bus and motorcoach industries. The Fly-Ins succeeded in a 40 bipartisan Members of Congress to sign a letter to the FMCSA raising concerns about the agency’s planned course.
When the letter did not succeed in stopping the agency, Prime Policy Group pulled together other affected industry groups including the American Trucking Associations, American Bus Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and created a coalition effort to seek legislation. The coalition’s goal was to get legislation passed to stop the issuance of guidance and require FMCSA to proceed by the formal notice and comment rulemaking process if they wanted to address the issue. The coalition became known as the “Dream Team”.
The coalition’s year-long advocacy campaign identified bipartisan champions in both the House and Senate, some of whom would end up sponsoring and introducing legislation on obstructive sleep apnea. In a contentious legislative climate filled with rancorous discourse and few standalone legislative victories, Prime Policy Group and the “Dream Team” persevered to make certain the legislation crossed the finish line.
In September 2013, identical two paragraph bills were introduced in House and Senate stating that any new requirements related to screening, testing and treatment of driver sleep disorders and obstructive sleep apnea be subject to rulemaking as opposed to guidance. On September 23, 2013 the House voted unanimously, 405-0, for passage of the bill (H.R 3095). In the Senate, the bill sponsors managed to “hotline” the proposal (S.1537) and the bill passed by unanimous consent on October 4, 2013. President Obama signed the bill into law on October 15, 2013. The bill’s enactment was celebrated as a victory over an unnecessary, excessive and burdensome mandate that would have had severe impacts on all the affected industries.