A fresh bill to require railroads to have at least two people aboard Nebraska trains highlights this week’s public hearings on bills introduced in the 2021 Legislature.
Legislative Bill 486 will go before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Room 1113 of the State Capitol in Lincoln.
Nebraskans can watch the hearing’s livestream and offer comments on LB 486 through the Legislature’s website.
Lawmakers are nearing the end of the public-hearing portion of 2021’s 90-day “long” session, which has featured brief floor sessions and morning as well as afternoon committee meetings to get through the hearings and contain the spread of COVID-19.
LB 486, offered by state Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, essentially duplicates a two-person crew bill that never reached the floor during the 2019 or 2020 Unicameral sessions.
Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer is a co-sponsor of the bill, which reacts to growing sentiments among U.S. railroads to have only one person on a train or none at all by using automatic braking systems and other automation technology.
Day’s “statement of intent” for LB 486 echoes safety-based arguments against that step by railroad unions and other interested parties.
“Two-person crews can play a major role in helping to prevent potential accidents or derailments, as well as allowing potential problems to be addressed while an individual remains in the cab,” Day wrote.
National advocates of requiring at least a two-person crew won a major victory last week when a federal appeals court overturned a May 2019 U.S. Federal Railroad Administration decision against mandating crew sizes.
A three-judge panel of the West Coast-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the agency went too far in saying its decision also blocked states from mandating two-person minimum crews within their borders.
The FRA’s ruling reversed course from its initial March 2016 alert that it might impose a national two-person crew mandate. That statement followed major 2013 derailments of crude-oil trains in Canada and North Dakota.
The 9th Circuit panel called that reversal “arbitrary and capricious,” saying “there was nothing” in the FRA’s 2016 filing “to put a person on notice that the FRA might adopt a national one-person crew limit.”
Unions representing train crews and railroad workers joined California, Nevada and Washington state — all three of which have enacted two-person crew laws — in suing the FRA after its 2019 ruling.
The 9th Circuit panel dismissed the unions from the case on jurisdictional grounds, saying the unions’ “principal offices” are outside the 9th Circuit but the three states had proved their standing to sue.
“Under other circumstances, we might transfer the petition to a sister circuit, but because we determine that we have jurisdiction over the petitions filed by the states and (also will) vacate the FRA’s order, we dismiss the unions’ petition,” the judges wrote.
Also this week, the Education Committee Tuesday will hear Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman’s LB 36, which would require public schools to display the “In God We Trust” national motto.
The LB 36 hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. in State Capitol Room 1525.
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