Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law H.B. 1841, a two-person crew bill that was championed in various forms for seven years by SMART-TD Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn and the other members of the state’s legislative board.
Affectionately known as a “zombie” bill — H.B. 1841 had been buried and put on hold numerous times by legislators but kept coming back in the face of carrier opposition — it became the law of the land March 27.
“We were able to finally prevail by building a cohesive coalition of supporters including police and fire departments, environmental organizations, other labor unions, and interested community organizations to advance this bill across the finish line,” Krohn said. “We not only finally prevailed in our statehouse, we’ve successfully passed the STRONGEST state train crewing law in the entire nation!”
As written, the bill allows the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to “order railroad carriers to increase the number of railroad employees in areas of increased risk to the public, passengers, railroad employees, or the environment, or on specific trains, routes, or to switch assignments on their road with additional numbers of crewmembers, and may direct the placement of additional crewmembers, if it is determined that such an increase in staffing or the placement of additional crewmembers is necessary to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public, passengers, or railroad employees, to prevent harm to the environment or to address site specific safety or security hazards.”
The bill survived a last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler on March 6 to quash it before it passed through the state Senate by a 34-15 vote.
Schoesler, a Republican, attempted to adjourn the legislative session rather than have the bill come up to a vote five minutes before the close of the legislative session, Krohn said.
“Schoesler attempted to shut down the Washington State Senate rather than allow our crewing bill to come to the floor for consideration and a vote,” Krohn said. “It’s an example of just how far the rail carriers and their allies are willing to go to kill off our safe train crewing bill as well as any other railroad safety legislation they oppose!”
That motion to adjourn was defeated by a party-line vote, and the bill subsequently was heard and voted upon.
Five Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted with every Senate Democrat in favor of the bill. The 15 senators who voted against H.B. 1841 were all Republican.
Krohn said the law is scheduled to take effect Thursday, June 11, 2020, and restores minimum freight crew legislation in the state that had been removed from the books in 1966 thanks to carrier lobbying efforts.
At the federal level, Washington state is a party along with three other states and rail labor unions in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) attempt to prevent states from passing laws mandating train crew size.
A hearing in the case is likely to be held in late summer or fall.
The Nevada State Legislative Board reports that A.B. 337, legislation requiring two people in the cab of freight trains in the state, passed in the state Senate on Tuesday by a 13-8 party-line vote.
The bill is in the process of enrollment — receiving signatures from both the Senate and General Assembly leadership — and is expected to be on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s (D) desk for his signature in the coming weeks, Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering said.
A bill in Maryland (H.B. 66) has successfully passed both houses of its Legislature and is awaiting action by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Two-person crew legislation also is progressing in Minnesota (part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill) and in Illinois (S.B. 24). The support of members in both states is important for both pieces of legislation to be passed.
Minnesota residents can contact these legislators to show support for the Minnesota bill.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy reports that two-person crew legislation has passed in his state’s House of Representatives as part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill, and that a push by members and retirees alike will be needed to get it through the state Senate to the governor.
The bill passed Monday, April 29, by a 74-52 party-line vote and now moves on to the Minnesota Senate’s Transportation Conference Committee. Section 93 of the bill contains a provision setting a minimum crew size for freight trains operating in the state. H.F. 1555 also contains other important rail safety provisions, including Section 90, which set forth the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s enforcement of state safety regulations and maintenance of way track equipment crossing protections.
“The outcome of that conference committee will most likely determine whether minimum train crew language is passed into law,” Qualy said.
Qualy said that the effort of every SMART TD member and retiree in Minnesota is necessary to pass this important legislation to keep the state’s communities safe. Members, retirees and their friends and family are encouraged to call or email their state senators to talk about the important public safety aspects and assistance to first responders that two-person crews provide on the state’s rails in the case of a railroad emergency. A list of key senators to be contacted appears below.
“We need all railroad workers standing together in support of this legislation,” he said. “We need our members at the capitol. Please make your calls and emails today.”
Members of the Minnesota State Senate who should be contacted include:
Two-person crew legislation endorsed by our union progressed ahead in two state legislatures late last week.
In Illinois, S.B. 24 was passed by the state Senate by a party-line 36-19 vote on Thursday. The state House of Representatives’ Rules Committee has received the bill, which establishes a minimum crew size of two individuals, and will consider it. The bill’s primary sponsor in the Illinois House is state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D – Dist. 113).
“Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator, this couldn’t have been done without you,” The Illinois State Legislative Board said in a post on its Facebook page. “The General Assembly will now go on a two-week holiday break so please be ready to reach out to your State Representatives in their district offices.”
A two-person crew bill also has been passed in Maryland and awaits the action of Gov. Larry Hogan.
Nationally, the Safe Freight Act two-person crew bill introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 1748) by U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska continues to gain sponsors through the vocal support of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees alike, the national legislative office in Washington reports.
National Legislative Director John Risch said that more than 1,500 messages from members and retirees have been sent to members of the House in support of the Safe Freight Act and the bill has been gaining co-sponsors.
“Hearing from their voters goes a long way to opening the door to our message in the halls of Congress,” Risch said. “This is a team effort, so keep up the emails and phone calls.”
Two-person freight crew safety legislation is one step closer to becoming law in Colorado with the state Senate’s passage of House Bill 1034 (H.B. 1034).
After its 19-15 passage on Feb. 25 in the Senate, the bill is on the desk of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for consideration after a successful March 4 reconciliation vote in the House.
Polis has three options — signing the bill to make it state law, vetoing the bill or not signing the bill. If he chooses not to sign the bill, it will then become law after 10 days of inaction.
“We need to let the governor know that this is a grassroots effort with the safety of the public in mind,” Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith said.
Through the process, members in the state, as well as their families and friends, have been instrumental in supporting the efforts of the Colorado State Legislative Board to get the two-person crew bill through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk.
Help is needed one more time for that final push. Members, their families and friends in Colorado all can voice their support for the legislation by following the link below:
Smith said that he is optimistic that Polis, who as a U.S. representative was a co-sponsor of the 2017 Safe Freight Act legislation, will support the bill once he hears from SMART members, their families and anyone else in the state who is concerned about rail safety.
H.B. 1034 first passed the Colorado House on Feb. 5 by a 39-23 vote.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – On March 17, the Maryland House of Representatives voted in favor of HB 381, a measure that would require at least two crew members on all freight trains operating in the state of Maryland. The bi-partisan bill has moved to the Senate finance committee.