"Little did we know we would be walking into a very touch-and-go situation," Newton said.
The 34-hour restart provision, which allows drivers to reset the clock on the workweek in compliance with federal guidelines, will be eliminated if a mandated Department of Transportation study fails to show that there are safety and other benefits. The study was intended only to address certain restrictions to the rule, but that was not specified in the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act's language, and the federal agency's interpretation could wipe out the entire restart provision.
The American Trucking Associations and other industry leaders have been searching for a solution the past few weeks. The Arkansas Trucking Association, which began informing its members last month about the lack of an order to keep the 34-hour provision in place, will get the chance to express its concerns to lawmakers about reverting to previous hours-of-service guidelines.
"The fact that commerce across the entire country, the fact that the rules of the road can change with the drop of a report, is something that they all need to be informed on," Newton said.
Initially, the industry had hoped to work with lawmakers to draft a solution this month to include in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. But there appears to be no quick fix.
The uncertainty has trucking advocates uneasy, which Newton said makes this week's trip important.
"There aren't a lot of other state trucking associations that had planned to be in town," Newton said. "So I feel like it's really important that our team understand we're carrying the water, if you will, for educating our delegation and anybody else we may have the opportunity to interact with on how important these issues are to our industry."
Sean McNally, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, said the willingness of state partners like the Arkansas Trucking Association to play a role in advocacy efforts helps provide "strength in numbers." Putting constituents and business owners with Congress can have a "tremendous impact," McNally said.
Newton is being accompanied by representatives of nine companies: Wal-Mart Transportation, FedEx Freight, UPS, Tyson Foods, Star Transportation, CalArk International, Stallion Transportation Group, McKee Foods Transportation and Dedicated Logistics.
"We always look forward to meeting with Arkansans who keep our office closely connected to the needs of folks at home, and the ATA is a great example," U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., who will meet with association members today, said in a statement. "Arkansas truckers help inform our office as to how we can keep interstate commerce moving efficiently so that American consumers can reap the benefits of a fast and reliable transportation network.
"As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I highly value their insight and work," he added.
Discussion about the 34-hour rule will take precedence, but that isn't the only item on the agenda.
Newton said topics like truck parking, safety technology and the industry's safety rating system will be discussed. So will what Newton called a "really close No. 2" to the 34-hour restart problem: the ongoing debate about the validity of state rules requiring meal and rest breaks for truck drivers.
According to the American Trucking Associations, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 established that in order to maintain a uniform system nationwide, states could not institute their own rules governing the trucking industry. But trucking companies have been challenged in places like California, where rest and meal breaks have been successfully enforced through court rulings.
American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said last month that the "overreach" by states and courts will "destroy the unified national rules that Congress intended trucking to operate under."
Newton said it has been a particular problem for larger carriers that operate nationwide, forcing them to create different compensation models for drivers in those states.
"We're not asking drivers to work extra hours," Newton said. "We're not asking for any sort of exception. We're just asking for the same rules to apply as our drivers cross from one state to another."
The Arkansas contingent is larger than last year, when executives from seven companies made the trip. Newton also said there are more younger representatives involved, with four members of the association's "40 under 40" council on the trip.
"It's good for people who are executives -- young and old -- to have those relationships with their congressional delegation," Newton said. "If they have issues, they have that line of communication. They have someone in their congressman's office they can call if they want to talk to."