Cathy Gautreaux

 

It’s not clear who changed more during the past 32 years: Cathy Gautreaux or the association she directed for many
of those years.

When the young, wide-eyed Kelly Girl walked through the doors of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association more than three decades ago as a temporary receptionist, there was no way Gautreaux nor the LMTA could have envisioned that she would wind up as the association’s executive director, leading the group through tumultuous times, through legislative victories and through the storms of trucking industry regulation.

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From issues like interstate deregulation, to indemnification, to sales tax emptions for truckers, Gautreaux has guided the LMTA to major legislative victories for the trucking industry. She hasn’t won every fight, of course, but at crunch time, the LMTA knew that Gautreaux would be standing tall at the State Capitol, fighting for Louisiana’s truckers and the trucking industry.

November marks the end of an era at the Bennington Avenue offices of the LMTA. Gautreaux is leaving the association to take a new job at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in Washington, D.C.

 

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The Early Years

“I needed a job,” Gautreaux remembers, when she first walked into the LMTA offices three decades ago. “I thought I was headed to law school. I was promoted to the LMTA office manager after a few months. I had no clue about the trucking industry or what a trade association was. After the association went through five executive directors, they offered the position to me because I was basically doing the job through all the changes.”

When Gautreaux was named executive director, it raised more than a few eyebrows in Louisiana and across the country. At the time, there were only two other women managers of state trucking associations in the United States.

“I had no lobbying experience and was deathly afraid that I would miss some remote tax increase embedded in a piece of legislation,” Gautreaux laughed. “I lost a lot of sleep during my first few legislative sessions. Lucky for me, there were four special sessions that really didn’t impact trucking during my first year, which gave me an opportunity to learn the art of lobbying at the Capitol.”

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After all, lobbying lawmakers is one of the primary functions of every trade association. And for an industry as heavily regulated as trucking, lobbying is a critical part of the job.

Gautreaux may not have had a lot of experience at first, “but I had so many people — LMTA members, other lobbyists, etc. — who took me under their wing and helped me along the way,” she said. “There is no way I could have been successful without so many people who I wish I could name and thank personally.”

Things were very different 30-plus years ago down at the State Capitol, Gautreaux’s home away from home.

“Every piece of legislation was printed,“ she said. “We had a legislative service that dropped off a huge packet of legislation every morning during the session that you had to read and decipher the good and the bad. Committee meetings were not really publicized — you just had to jump in and find out what was going on.”

When Gautreaux was named LMTA office manager, there was no one to train her. “So,” she said, “I went through each file cabinet drawer and read the administrative files on everything from the building mortgage payments, employee payroll, convention planning, etc. I would not recommend that as the preferred way to learn a job!”

Gautreaux, who previously worked for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, believes that law enforcement experience helped her in her job directing the LMTA.

“You learn the difference between fact and fiction, who to trust, who is a real threat and how to stand up to intimidation,” she said. “Bluffing and threats are a waste of time and energy. If you are going to do something, just do it.

“I look back and think I was timid about making waves at the Capitol,” Gautreaux said, [something that is no longer a problem]. “With experience comes self-confidence,” she continued. “With support from the membership comes determination and purpose. If you have never lost as a lobbyist, you have compromised too much and have given away the store, just to call it a ‘win.’ That’s lazy lobbying. Drives me nuts! I’d rather lose with dignity.”

Gautreaux said she never looked for a fight at the State Capitol, but was never afraid of one either.

 

“I’ve Been Blessed”

As executive director of the LMTA, Gautreaux has learned volumes about the trucking industry and met many trucking company owners. She sees them as the backbone of the country, small family businesses whose owners work hard, honestly and fairly.

“Over the years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn about this incredible industry and how important it is to the state and nation,” she said. “I’ve developed a true passion for the industry.”

Having been in law enforcement and in the industry, Gautreaux sees her new job as middle ground.

“I get to use my experience in both areas to promote safety and support an industry I have learned to love and respect,” she said. “I think motor carrier safety starts and ends with boots on the ground, the man or woman behind the wheel of the truck and the MCSAP officer in the patrol car. We need to give them the tools and training to do their job safely.”

Gautreaux has witnessed many changes and challenges in the industry over the decades. Today, however, she believes the biggest challenges and changes facing the trucking industry include rapidly evolving technology and the focus on safety with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

“Now we are embarking upon the science and technology phase, and it will change this industry forever,” she said.

 

Top Legislative Victories

Consolidation of LA Private and For-Hire Truck Plates. Prior to deregulation of the industry, for-hire motor carrier plates were twice as high as private motor carrier plates, even though private motor carriers could and were operating as for-hire carriers for back haul. This leveled the playing field.

Deregulation. The intrastate trucking industry was deregulated by an act of Congress. We defeated an attempt by the LPSC to create a registration system in the state to maintain their control over the trucking industry and collect fees from motor carriers.

Sales Tax Exemption. For over 10 years, we fought for a sales tax exemption for trucks operating in interstate commerce and as a result, it was finally made permanent.

Unified Carrier Registration (UCR). We passed legislation to implement the national UCR program and ensure that the Louisiana State Police (LSP) — not the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) — would receive the fees collected from Louisiana motor carriers to support safety enforcement. We did not want the LSP to be dependent upon self-generated funds.

Indemnification. The most significant, costly, heated legislative victory in LMTA history, this legislation prohibits large shippers from requiring motor carriers to assume liability for the shipper’s negligence as a matter of public policy. For this victory, I received the national ATA President’s Award.

Warranty Repair. We defeated an attempt to require all warranty work on trucks to be completed at a dealership, even if the motor carriers had permission from the manufacturer to complete minor repairs. Without this victory, trucks could have been stuck at dealerships for days or weeks waiting for minor repairs.

Highway Funding. LMTA supported the TIMED Program. However, over the past several years, there have been many attempts to shift a significant portion of the highway funding burden to the trucking industry. In the 2017 regular legislative session, legislation was introduced to impose lane restrictions and a speed differential on the trucking industry in retaliation for LMTA remaining neutral in the attempt to raise fuel taxes by 30 cents and/or 17 cents per gallon. The trucking industry is considered “the means to an end” to fund highways without new administrative benefits or operational efficiencies to offset the increased operating taxes. The trucking industry needs to remain a strong, effective, independent voice in the highway funding arena — answerable to no one but itself as highway users with no profit incentive.

 

LMTA Victories

•    Prohibited fines for Non-Violations of ”Right to Know” Law
•    Defeated attempt to restrict warranty repairs
•    Anti-indemnification legislation
•    Dedication of truck fees to highways
•    Created “logo” plates for LA carriers
•    Passed law for UCR in LA
•    Eliminated mandatory CDL suspension
•    Defending CMV sales tax exemption permanent
•    Defeated increased container weights
•    Defeated lane and speed restrictions
•    Clarified permits for containers
•    Eliminated fines for containers proven to be in international commerce
•    Clarified owner-operators are independent contractors
•    Clarified reporting of hazmat incidents
•    Exempted IRP vehicles from mandatory participation in state inspection program
•    Increased legal height on interstate to 14 feet
•    Required all moving violations to be posted on driver operating record
•    Eliminated mandatory payment of fines at weigh scales & roadsides
•    Defeated 500% truck fee increase
•    Created permanent truck plates
•    Defined reimbursable expenses to fire departments responding to incidents
•    Repealed the 2% gross receipts tax

 

 

 

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