Senate Won’t Vote on Self-Driving Car Bill in 2017: Thune

By Shaun Courtney

The Senate’s self-driving vehicle bill will have to wait until 2018, barring any last-minute maneuvers to attach it to what is expected to be a stripped-down continuing resolution, the bill’s author told Bloomberg Government Dec. 20.

The AV START bill ( S. 1885) would create the first national regulatory framework for self-driving vehicle technology being developed by companies like Alphabet Inc., Tesla Inc., and Lyft Inc.

“Right now it looks like whatever ends up being this cleanup vehicle for the end of the year is going to be fairly skinny. So we may need to wait until next year,” Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said about his bill.

The Republican and Democratic cloakrooms have been pushing to move the bill through the hotlining process by gauging concerns from lawmakers that would prevent the bill from passing the Senate this year under unanimous consent.

Thune and his co-author, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), had hoped their legislation would pass either by unanimous consent or attached to year-end legislation in 2017.

The full House passed its own framework, the SELF DRIVE Act (H.R. 3388), in September.

Holdouts

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) emerged as a notable Democrat putting a hold on the quick passage of her chamber’s bill.

“I’m strongly opposed to it,” Feinstein told Bloomberg Government Dec. 14. “I do not want untested autonomous vehicles on the freeways which are complicated, move fast and are loaded with huge trucks.”

Thune wondered how she could oppose the legislation given that her state is a “hotbed” of self-driving technology and innovation.

“I’m hoping some of the people that are involved with the research and development out there will get to her and get her to change her mind,” he said.

Peters was hopeful he could assuage Feinstein’s concerns.

“States still have the ability to determine where these automobiles may actually be,” Peters told Bloomberg Government Dec. 14.

Now What?

If Feinstein’s mind can’t be changed, ruling out unanimous consent, Thune thinks the bill has enough support to handily pass the Senate in the new year with 70 or 75 votes.

“If we have time I’d like to see us bring it up,” Thune said. “I hope we can get it going. It would be nice if we could get it hotlined.”

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

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

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