[*BCM*] Politics

Tom Revay trevay at massbike.org
Tue Oct 9 10:38:26 EDT 2007

Lee Peters wrote:

> Dear MassBike Lurkers,

> Who, at the state level, determines the Mass. driving laws?  Which
> committees?

> and

> Did that bike bill ever pass?  The one making it illegal to door a
> bicyclist.

Ah, politics and sausage ...!  Here is a brief description of what's
happened to the four Bike Bills, each introduced in every legislative
session that's been convened in this century.

First, some background:  when a bill is introduced, it's shuffled off
to one or more committees, made up of members of the Senate and / or
the House of Representatives.  These guys consider the bill, make
changes, hold public hearings, and in the end, either return the bill
to their respective legislative houses, recommending the bill be
passed, or that it be voted down ... or they don't return it to their
colleagues at all.

The Bicyclists Bill of Rights and Responsibilities has been introduced
four times since 2001.  Each time, it was referred to the Joint
Transportation Committee (JTC), which is made of members of both the
Senate and the House of Representatives.  Each time, this committee
held public hearings, with the most recent hearings occurring this
past June.  And in the past four legislative sessions, the JTC
recommended the bill be passed.

The current incarnation of the bill is now being considered the Senate
Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.  I think this is
something new -- I don't recall the other three bills going to this
particular committee.  It's there now, and MassBike is trying to
dislodge it, as I wrote about last week.  (See the Action Alert at
http://www.massbike.org/news/action_alert_100507.htm for how you can
help get it moving.)

The last place the bill goes before it's voted on by the full House
and Senate is the Ways and Means Committee of the House of
Representatives.  These guys are charged with determining how much the
bill will cost, and figuring out how the state will pay for that cost.

Fortunately, our little bill is pretty cheap!  It's really a reform of
already-existing laws, or additions to the Massachusetts General Laws
that are included in most states' traffic laws, but never made it into
ours.  The only part that would cost any money is the required police
officer training in traffic law enforcement relating to bicycle
safety, which would be provided as both in-service and as academy
training.  Because of this cost, during the 2001 - 2002 legislative
session, the Charles River Wheelmen began raising money to pay for the
first year of the bill's added cost, which they planned to donate to
the state once the bill was passed.  That would make the bill revenue
neutral for the first year.

But two things happened subsequently.  First, the state's Municipal
Police Training Committee, which is an organization within the
Executive Office of Public Safety and Security -- part of the
Executive branch, answering to the Governor -- decided in 2005 to
incorporate the training curriculum that MassBike developed under a
grant from the Federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
 NHTSA approved this grant after MassBike began work using seed money
from CRW.  (Aren't they great?)  What this means is that police are
going to get this training anyway, regardless of what the legislature
does with the Bike Bill.  What it also means is that the bill is now
completely revenue neutral -- there'll be no significant expense to
the state to pass it.  (You can read more about the NHTSA / MassBike
program, and the MPTC's adoption of it, at
http://www.massbike.org/police/TrainingCommitteeRelease.htm ).

The second thing that happened, for the first two incarnations of the
Bike Bill, is that it went into the Ways and Means Committee ... and
it was never heard from again!  It was never "reported out" of the
Committee.  Why?  Uh, well, they're busy people ... didn't get around
to it ... more pressing issues ... and sending a bill to a committee,
especially Ways and Means, is one way for legislative leaders to kill
it without actually calling a general vote of the House or Senate.

In particular, the representative who introduced the bill in the first
three sessions happened to be part of a group that wanted to move the
Speaker of the House out of his job.  This effort was totally
unrelated to the Bike Bill, but by being part of this maverick outfit
that also included my district's representative (and who were fighting
the good fight, in my opinion), not much that these people did was
destined to succeed, so long as this speaker prevailed.

As it turns out, that speaker moved on, in part because he got into
some trouble after the post-2000 census redistricting he proposed came
under Federal scrutiny for gerrymandering.  (Ahh, Rep. Elbridge Gerry,
where would we be without you?)

So in the third session, it was in and out of Ways and Means without
any significant delay, and was declared neutral, so far as the cost to
the state.  After that, the legislature passed the bill, and in
December, 2006, it was sent to the Governor's desk.

But since Mitt was off campaigning, it was Active Governor Kerry
Healey who got it.  And in a frankly bizarre message, she explained
that she was rejecting the bill, because it would increase regulation
of a population -- bicyclists -- who shouldn't be so regulated.

And that just ain't so.  What regulations it placed were placed upon
others, on behalf of bicyclists.  As the MassBike press release
announcing the veto put it, "it appears that Healey completely
misunderstood the intent of the bill, believing it to impose new
regulation on 'recreational affairs'."  (You can read that release at
http://www.massbike.org/news/bikebillvetoed.htm )

The fourth bill was introduced in January, and as mentioned above,
it's currently in the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security
Committee, from which MassBike is trying to dislodge it.  Again, you
can help dislodge it -- see
http://www.massbike.org/news/action_alert_100507.htm , and give it
some help.

Finally -- in case there's any confusion, I'm reporting what I know
here, and I don't speak for MassBike.  I'm also neither a staff
member, nor am I on the Board of Directors any longer.  I am on the
Advisory Board, which is a nice thing to be on, but I'm not asked to
advise very much, and I rarely offer it to MassBike on my own. 8-)

But I am a card carrying MassBike member.

And for the record, I don't mind being called a "lurker"!

Tom Revay

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