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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rick Perry’s Imaginary Regulation

Rick Perry falsely claimed the Obama administration wants farmers to obtain a commercial driver's license to ride tractors across public roads.

As first reported by the Des Moines Register, the Texas governor told his tall Texas tale at the Iowa State Farm on Monday — two days after announcing he would run for the Republican presidential nomination. He offered it as an example of "regulations that are stifling jobs."

Perry, Aug. 15: This is just such an obscene, crazy regulation. They wanna make — if you are a tractor driver, if you drive your tractor across a public road you're gonna have to have a commercial driver's license. Now, how idiotic is that?

As Perry made his claim, a member of the audience twice yelled out, "That's not true." And it is not. In fact, five days before Perry made his claim, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a press release saying it had "no intention to propose new regulations governing the transport of agricultural products."

Here's what happened: Under federal law, the Transportation Department requires minimum standards that states must enforce when issuing commercial driver's licenses. The DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said that states "may be taking varied approaches" to exempting farmers from those requirements, and may be applying the exemption "inconsistently." So, the agency launched a review, asked for public comments and promised to issue regulatory guidance "to help ensure uniform application of the safety regulations."

That request for public comments, which was published May 31 in the Federal Register, generated a storm of criticism and concern — and misinformation. The National Sorghum Producers posted a blog item Aug. 4 that carried this headline: "A CDL to drive a tractor? Another burdensome regulation looms over ag." The blog said: "The proposal from USDOT would force those who operate any farm machinery, i.e. tractors and combines, to have a Commercial Drivers License (CDL)."

On Aug. 10, the DOT issued a press release saying it had "no intention to propose new regulations." It did, as promised, issue new regulatory guidance "designed to make sure states clearly understand the common sense exemptions that allow farmers, their employees, and their families to accomplish their day-to-day work and transport their products to market." In the press release, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, explained why the guidance was issued.

LaHood, Aug. 10: We have no intention of instituting onerous regulations on the hardworking farmers who feed our country and fuel our economy. Farmers deserve to know that reasonable, common sense exemptions will continue to be consistently available to agricultural operations across the country, and that’s why we released this guidance.

— Eugene Kiely