Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 30th, 2010 at 11:25 am
"We are coming out of a legislative session that really hurt us, so we need to rebuild our core support and rebuild our base in order to be able to pass something... particularly fighting the backlash and hatred that some folks feel about bicycles."
— Rob Sadowsky, BTA Executive Director
With the 2011 Oregon legislative session nearly underway (committee meetings begin mid-December), the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has decided on their course of action; and it's a lot less ambitious than the wish list they unveiled back in March. Coming off a 2009 session without any significant new bike laws being passed and with a new leader coming to the helm in June, the BTA will use the 2011 session to as a building block that will (hopefully) set them up for larger gains in 2012.
"It's clearly a building year," BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky commented during a phone interview this morning. "Starting [his position with the BTA] in June made it difficult to build a consensus around an agenda." In addition to not having adequate time to prepare major legislative initiatives, Sadowsky says the BTA (and biking in general) is still stinging from an acrimonious and largely unsuccessful 2009 session:
"We are also coming out of a legislative session that really hurt us, so we need to rebuild our core support and rebuild our base in order to be able to pass something... particularly fighting the backlash and hatred that some folks feel about bicycles. This will be more of a reactive year than a proactive year, rebuilding faith and trust and building the machine so we can be effective next year."
Sadowsky says their legislative agenda, which is slated to be approved by the Board of Directors on December 7th, will consist of only two "small tweaks" to existing Oregon laws. First, the BTA wants to add Driving while Suspended/Revoked (OR 811.175) as a violation that subjects a driver to the Vulnerable Roadway User process. Currently, the VRU law is only triggered after someone is charged with "careless driving".
The other small tweak the BTA will work on is to pass an amendment to the citizen-initiated citation process to make it more, "simple and accessible" according to Sadowsky. ORS 153.058 gives any Oregon citizen the right to initiate charges of a traffic (or other) violation against another party (including the police). Even though it has proven to work on several occasions, the process is unwieldy and is not widely put to use.
To help rebuild relationships with legislators and fight some of that "backlash", Sadowsky says their main push in Salem this year will be a "call to action". The BTA will call on the Oregon Senate and House to hold a joint hearing on traffic safety focused on the Vision Zero campaign. The plan is to educate lawmakers and position improved safety as a key goal that will build momentum for the 2012 session (starting this year, the Oregon legislatures meets annually). The BTA will organize traffic safety experts to visit Salem and testify about best practices both in the US and in Europe.
Sadowsky says the hearings will be part of an effort to build bipartisan support for strategies that they'll introduce in 2012.
With new transportation funding sources likely to be a big issue this session, Sadowsky says they're already preparing for bills that will look to make bicycle operators "pay their fair share". He says the BTA has already heard bike tax and bike registration ideas being floated in various committees. Here's how the BTA is prepping for these "attacks":
"We want to make sure we're well positioned to know where those attacks are coming from and making sure we can react to them. We're also trying to build relationship with people likely to bring up user fees... making sure when we're talking about fees, we're talking about weight, carbon, VMT [vehicle miles traveled]; and not talking about non-motorized users."
The issue of who will handle the BTA's legislative work in Salem is still up in the air. Unlike years past, the BTA does not have a Government Affairs or lobbyist on their staff (a position held formerly by Scott Bricker and Karl Rohde). Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky will manage the legislative effort, and long-time volunteer and Legislative Committee Chair Doug Parrow (who lives in Salem) will also do some lobbying. The BTA is looking to hire a paid lobbyist to handle their legislative heavy-lifting, but they have yet to make the hire.
— Stay tuned for more coverage of the upcoming session. For more stories on this topic, check our 2011 Legislative Session tag.
CORRECTION: This article initially said that the BTA would work to add distracted driving as a trigger for the Vulnerable Roadway User law to go into effect. I have since learned that is not the case. They want to add Driving While Suspended/Revoked as an additional trigger for the VRU law. The article has been corrected.