Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Senate’s Self-driving Car Champions Make a Push for Agreement

October 9, 2018 Shaun Courtney
  • Negotiations have been underway for the last two weeks
  • Sponsors set a goal for a floor vote before November

The bipartisan co-sponsors of the Senate’s self-driving car bill are trying to create a renewed sense of urgency with a month’s end deadline for a deal that has thus far been elusive.

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) want to get new AV START (S. 1885) language agreed to by early next week, quickly check that language among members, and hold a vote on the Senate floor before the chamber leaves at the end of October, several lobbyists and interest groups familiar with the negotiations tell Bloomberg Government.The self-imposed deadline is seen as the bill’s best shot at getting passed this year — a goal Peters reiterated during a Bloomberg TV interview Thursday.“We’re very close to agreement,” Peters said in the interview.

Traffic Jam

The self-driving car bill wasn’t attached to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill because trial lawyers rejected what Thune called his “last best offer,” he told Bloomberg Government in mid-September.

The American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, has been opposed to the legislation, and is focused on liability issues they believe pose a challenge to consumer protection, the group told Bloomberg Government last month. One of their goals would be to open complaints against self-driving car companies to the courts, rather than the forced arbitration policies companies like Uber Technologies Inc. have been in the news for recently.

Everyone went back to the bargaining table in the last two weeks, according to several lobbyists and persons familiar with the discussions.

“We have staff that is long-suffering and forever patient. We really are genuinely trying to get there and we continue to narrow the differences,” Thune told Bloomberg Government Wednesday.

“I’m still hoping that we can get that particular issue resolved with regard to preemption and liability,” Thune said. “If we can do that then we still have Feinstein and Markey and Blumenthal, and some of those issues, but I think we would have an argument to be able to get time on the floor,” Thune said, referring to Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), all of whom have placed procedural holds on the bill to keep it from proceeding.

Appeasing that trio and several others is no small order, but the plan would be to then agree to limit floor time and set a finite number of amendments, lobbyists and people familiar with the negotiations said.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com; Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com

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