Holdouts Want Self-Driving Car Bill Changes Before Senate Vote

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By Shaun Courtney

The Senate self-driving vehicle bill will have to change before it can come to the Senate floor, several senators and congressional sources told Bloomberg Government.

Both the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms were gauging support through the hotline process the week of Nov. 25 for possibly bringing to the Senate floor the AV START bill (S. 1885) co-authored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

The hotlining process helps identify any issues that might keep a bill from being considered under unanimous consent.

The bill was approved out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in October, but several senators at the time said they planned to offer amendments when the bill came to the floor.

Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) confirmed that they each placed a hold on the bill when it was floated by them through the hotline process by their cloakroom.

Holds are just part of the process, not something that could sidetrack the bill, Peters told reporters.

“People come forward and you work it out. Usually we can get it done,” Peters told reporters. “I know Sen. Thune is very anxious to get it done too, so we’re working as a team.”

The Commerce Committee does not expect the bill to clear without further discussion and changes, a Commerce committee staffer told Bloomberg Government.

What’s the Holdup?

Markey continues to have questions about safety and privacy in the bill, he told Bloomberg Government.

Blumenthal told reporters he was also holding up the bill because he continues to want to see a provision that would allow a human driver to take control manually back from the computer driver. He offered an amendment to that end during committee markup.

Blumenthal withdrew it after the ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told him during markup that such an amendment would “undermine the purpose of the bill.”

Thune told Bloomberg Government Nov. 28 the hotline process would help him to identify any issues there might be with his bill among Republicans.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) also offered and withdrew during the markup an amendment that would have added heavy trucks to the legislation, a move favored by Chairman Thune and co-sponsored by several other committee members.

Though Inhofe at the markup said he would offer the amendment again when the bill came before the full Senate, he did not put a hold on the bill over trucks, he told Bloomberg Government.

“I want to see it some day, but, no, I won’t be doing it,” he said about the trucking provision.

There may be other pending holds placed by both Republicans and Democrats, but Peters would not name names or issues when asked.

“I don’t want to negotiate in public,” he said.

Now What?

Absent unanimous consent for the Senate bill, Thune said he would look for another “fast-moving vehicle” to get his measure passed.

“If we can get consent, we would like to move it that way.” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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