Battle Likely over Changes for Trucking

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

The specter of a battle over states' rights and inviolability of the Oklahoma Constitution may face the United States Congress when it returns next year _ just for easing a "noncontroversial" amendment through on a voice vote.

Although called noncontroversial when a conference committee attached it to the 1995 Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvements Project authorization bill, a lot of controversy has erupted since.

Oklahoma, especially rural Oklahoma, will be hurt significantly, small shippers will pay a premium rate and economic development will be hampered, a legislator, a regulator and leaders of the trucking industry say.

The amendment, which passed quickly by voice vote in both houses of Congress, eliminates state regulation of intrastate trucking. It was supposed to have eliminated regulations hampering interstate trucking companies, companies wanting to enter business in a state and allow free enterprise and competition to regulate the industry.

But those interviewed for this article said it probably will work just the opposite.

The federal regulation becomes effective Jan. 1. But there are some state statutes standing in the way, and the Oklahoma Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene in its regular session until Feb. 6.

"We're already looking into it to see what state statutes we need to pass for this to help ease the situation," said state Rep. Larry E. Adair, D-Stilwell, chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee.

The bill could help in some states in which the industry is at odds with regulators, but it's going to hurt Oklahoma, which in general has experienced good growth through cooperation between the industry and its regulators.

Biggest battle, however, is expected to be that of states' rights and whether Congress can summarily pre-empt state regulation with virtually no discussion.

"I believe the question of constitutionality is going to come up both in states' rights and whether a federal law can pre-empt a state's constitution," said LaVern McCorkle, president of McCorkle Truck Lines Inc., 2132 SE 18th St., and president of Associated Motor Carriers of Oklahoma Inc., a trucking industry trade association. "Oklahoma is unique, I believe, because our constitution specifically states that the attorney general and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission will regulate transportation in the state.

"I don't know where it's going to come from, but I believe there will be a constitutional battle on this, especially if the people against it can come up with the money for attorneys.

"Besides that, I guess there are some states where there is a problem with the regulatory agencies and bodies, but in Oklahoma we've never had a problem. Oh, we've had problems, but we've always been able to work them out in a friendly way.

"Our regulators and our industry work well together. I guess other states haven't been able to achieve that."

Since she became president of the association Aug. 20, little more than a week after the bill was passed, similar associations in other states have contacted McCorkle about what legal action can be taken.

"People in Texas have talked about a suit dealing with states' rights," she said. "Whether they actually file something, I don't know."

Beyond the constitutional and states' rights question, there is a question as to whether the public good will be served by intrastate trucking deregulation. The action will create problems for small companies with only a small amount of cargo to ship and put a halt to economic development in rural areas and small towns, nearly everyone interviewed for this article predicted. …