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Mr. LARSEN of Washington. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I understand the objective of the legislation before the House today--to clarify the existing authority of public authorities to offer discounts in transportation tolls to residents of communities faced with limited transportation access and heavy toll burdens.
Last Congress, the House passed similar legislation. That legislation, at the time introduced by Mr. McMahon of New York, reaffirmed the authority of States and local governments to provide discounted fare or toll rates to residents faced with undue financial hardships imposed by highway and bridge tolls.
We recognize that the residents of Staten Island are forced to endure some of the highest toll burdens in the country. The legislation passed by the last Congress would have provided a targeted approach to address the unique challenges facing communities like Staten Island.
Unfortunately, unlike Mr. McMahon's bill from last Congress, H.R. 897 as currently drafted is overly broad and raises some potentially serious legal issues.
A number of highway user organizations, including the American Highway Users Alliance, have raised concerns that H.R. 897 could lead to discrimination against interstate commerce, and be used in an attempt to preclude constitutional challenges to an individual toll or fare discount program.
Unfortunately, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has not held any hearings to examine the potential implications of this legislation. The Republican leadership has decided to bring this bill to the floor with no notice, at least not to this side of the aisle, under suspension of the rules prior to the important issues raised by this bill being examined and, if necessary, addressed.
Mr. Speaker, the House should be considering legislation to simply reinforce the existing right of communities to reduce the extreme toll burdens borne by captive toll payers. We should not be considering legislation that could be used to implement programs that impede interstate commerce by encouraging States and public authorities to find ways to shift the burden of tolls to out-of-State residents, or truckers, for that matter, or those making longer through trips.
Not all residential-based toll discounts are fair or necessarily appropriate, but some are. The context and how they are implemented are important to determining if they are appropriate.
Unfortunately, as currently drafted, H.R. 897 could be used to remove any case that could be made against a toll discount program. In that sense, it is overly broad and unreasonable.
I would hope that as we move forward, we can address the concerns of the highway user community and ensure that this legislation is not used to preclude challenges to toll discount programs.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
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