Thursday, May 26, 2011
Failed anti-sportbike bill offers important lessons to both sides of the fight
Those of you who saw this post and followed this Facebook page throughout the entire Texas HB 2470 ordeal are well aware of what we Texas motorcyclists recently put ourselves through to defeat a highly discriminatory and poorly drafted bill aimed solely at sportbikes –– the proposed law based on nothing more than prejudiced and ignorant public perceptions. I'll spare you the details, as I have a bad case of tired head right now from the whole experience. If you need to catch up on everything that happened, make yourself a pot of coffee and click the links. To summarize in a single sentence, HB 2470, a.k.a. "Malorie's Law", was a proposed law that would've made it illegal for certain riders of certain types of bikes ("sportbikes" specifically, which the bill defined extremely poorly) to carry passengers, resulting from the death of 19-year-old Malorie Bullock, who was killed while riding pillion on the back of a sportbike piloted by 18-year-old Tanner Burnett.
Anyhow, I'm happy to report that as of this week, we've officially received word from the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee that HB 2470 is dead, at least partly due to our actions and opposing involvement as an organized group of Texas motorcyclists. Along the way, we pulled the American Motorcyclist Association, the Motorcycle Industry Council, and even Cycle World Magazine into the melee, all of whom fought on our side to kill the bill. To those entities, I say thank you sincerely for your assistance and involvement.
But now that it's all over (for the moment, anyway, as the bill can be easily re-introduced during the next legislative session), I'm left with more of a bad taste in my mouth than anything else. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy the bill failed and everything, but I fear that HB 2470 was simply a harbinger of things to come. And for both sides of the fight, I fear there were important lessons which will go unlearned and misunderstood for years to come by many.
What supporters of HB 2470 should've learned from the situation, but likely didn't:
1.) When existing laws aren't enforced (or aren't even enforceable at all), more laws heaped on top of them certainly won't help. In fact, in the case of "Malorie's Law", it would've made things worse. HB 2470 essentially attempted to rewrite federal regulations already on the books which mandate motorcycle passenger safety equipment. It also attempted to effectively usurp the motorcycle licensing system in Texas for the sole purpose of demonizing one type of motorcycle. As I said in forum discussions, people screaming "There ought to be a law!" every time something bad happens is the road to societal collapse and eventual total government. That's not good for anyone's happiness or well-being.
2.) It doesn't have to be about race or religion for discrimination to be immoral. The intent of HB 2470 was to paint sportbikes as something they aren't, based on prejudices and ignorance. Sportbikes are not inherently the most dangerous motorcycle type, nor are all sportbike riders squidly teens who stunt on the freeway and block traffic. There are many of us in Texas and America at large who ride sportbikes skillfully and responsibly, and do not deserve to have our liberties aggressed upon.
3.) It's counterproductive to honor the memory of the deceased by naming a law after him or her which will generally be disliked. My friend Kurt Brown said it perfectly: "I hope they find a more positive way to memorialize their daughter. A scholarship, rider education program or other similar type program seems more appropriate than 'I got a ticket because of Malorie'." I couldn't agree more.
What opposers of HB 2470 should've learned from the situation, but likely didn't:
1.) When the rights of all motorcyclists are threatened, we should never turn on our own. The first thing that started happening in motorcycle circles after HB 2470 passed the Texas House was cruiser guys pointing their collective finger toward the sportbike crowd and generalizing them all as being irresponsible hot-rodders who are losing motorcycledom its rights at the pen of ignorant, non-motorcyclist legislators and citizens. Likewise, the sportbike crowd pointed squarely at the cruiser crowd and accused them all of being bar-hopping, helmetless drunks who swerve headlong into telephone poles by the dozens. All sides were wrong, both in accusation and principle. A house divided cannot stand, and we need solidarity more than ever.
2.) The best way to protect our rights as riders is to be good representatives and ambassadors of motorcycling every day. Think about the damage we do to motorcycling every day by doing things like riding wheelies in heavy traffic and running baffleless straight pipes on big-bore V-twins. We have an opportunity every time we ride to do things which endear others to our lifestyle. Yet so many of us are content to simply shoot the general public a figurative finger and leave them startled, rattled, and with their ears ringing.
3.) Sputnik is gone now, and we don't have the luxury of relying upon someone else to be the watchdog anymore. If you don't know who Sputnik was, Google him. Suffice it to say that, despite being a sometimes controversial character, he was a champion of motorcycle rights in Texas. He passed away not long ago at 70 from a heart attack, and I think we all kinda forgot that no one was minding the store. That is, until we discovered that HB 2470 had made it through the Texas House almost unopposed. That event should be our wake-up call. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Sputnik understood that fact, and I hope someone of his caliber will step up to fill the void.
Finally, I realize now some of the mistakes I made personally along the way, specific to this fight.
First off, I offer an apology to the family of Malorie Bullock for how I initially entered the fray. My first act of opposition to HB 2470 was to post a guns-blazing piece of editorial onto the the pro-HB 2470 Facebook page, not realizing (or even stopping to consider) that it was being run and administrated by the family of the young woman whose death was the catalyst for the bill. Though I made no insults or personal attacks by any stretch of the imagination, it was an angry, frustration-filled manifesto based largely on the ire I'd developed though similar past experiences. I should've presented my position in a different way, and I'm sorry for being such a dick at the get-go. I also regret the rather contentious email exchange I subsequently shared with Malorie's sister, Natalie.
Lastly, I regret that I conversely employed some of the same stereotyping in which I accused the other side of engaging. It's easy to get mad when you feel your individual sovereignty is been aggressed upon and, by the same token, difficult to remember that everyone involved is a human being working for what they think is right. I know I have some polishing to do in how I disagree with others at times, and I'm always working on improving. Unfortunately, I feel pretty confident that I'll have many more opportunities regarding motorcycle-rights threats throughout which to practice.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Bad facts lead to bad laws #4598
Behold the perfect example of a discriminatory Texas motorcycle bill:
Last Action: 05/05/2011 S Received from the House
Caption: Relating to the regulation of sport bikes and certain other motorcycles.
1) Definition of a sportbike Section 541.201, Transportation Code, is amended by adding Subdivision (18-a) to read as follows: (18-a) "Sport bike" means a motorcycle: (A) that is optimized for speed, acceleration, braking, and maneuverability on paved roads; (B) that has a light weight frame; (C) on which the rider leans forward over the gas tank; and (D) is not a touring, cruiser, standard, or dual-sport motorcycle.
2) The passenger on a sportbike is defined as one who is 18 or older with an "M" endorsement SECTION 4. Subchapter I, Chapter 545, Transportation Code, is amended by adding Section 545.4161 to read as follows: Sec. 545.4161. OPERATION OF SPORT BIKE. (a) In addition to the requirements and prohibitions under Section 545.416, an operator may not carry another person on a sport bike unless the sport bike is designed to carry more than one person, and unless: (1) the operator: (A) is at least 18 years of age; and (B) has had a Class M license for at least two years; or (2) the other person: (A) is at least 18 years of age and holds a Class M license; or (B) is a motorcycle operator training and safety course instructor certified under Chapter 662. (b) An operator of a sport bike shall ensure that a passenger on the sport bike complies with all department regulations relating to motorcycle safety.
3) The addition of requisite 'safety' equipment to include: Sec. 547.803. SPORT BIKE SAFETY EQUIPMENT. If a sport bike is designed to carry more than one person, the sport bike must be equipped with foot pegs and handholds for use by a passenger on the sport bike.
4) Defining Motorcycle to include Sportbike SECTION 7. Section 661.001(1), Transportation Code, is amended to read as follows: (1) "Motorcycle" means a motor vehicle designed to propel itself with not more than three wheels in contact The term includes a sport bike, as defined by Section 541.201.
Did you follow all that? In a nutshell, this bill would effectively make it illegal to carry a passenger on a sportbike only (not a cruiser, touring bike, enduro, etc.), without at least two years as a licensed motorcyclist over the age of 18. Can you say discrimination against sportbikes?
This bill, also known as "Malorie's Law" (named after a young woman who, you guessed it, died while riding pillion behind an 18-year-old sportbiker) is now creating attention and controversy amongst Texas motorcyclists, but perhaps too late. It quickly made it through committee and already passed the Texas House almost unanimously. It's now on its way to the Texas Senate, where it could be passed for the governor to sign into law.
Needless to say, this is just another stupid, unenforceable law that'll only serve to hinder and hassle law-abiding riders.
Late in the game, many of us in Texas are sending letters to our senators. Here's mine:
Dear Senator Seliger:
Please vote against HB 2470, the discriminatory bill known as "Malorie's Law", which recently passed the Texas House.
HB 2470 attempts to discriminate against a specific type of motorcycle genre ("sportbike") in reaction to the death of a young woman who was unfortunately killed in a crash while riding pillion on one.
The bill would prohibit riders of sportbikes (a term which is effectively impossible to accurately define legally) who have been licensed for less than two years to carry a passenger. This law would not apply to the riders of so-called "cruiser", "touring", "standard" or "enduro" motorcycles, and is therefore highly discriminatory.
Furthermore, all licensed riders in Texas are already required to complete and pass a safety course which includes a classroom module on carrying passengers. In its discrimination, "Malorie's Law" would also be somewhat redundant.
Bad facts lead to bad laws, and emotional legislation instigated by grieving parents is often to blame. Please oppose HB 2470.
I oppose this proposed law primarily because it infringes my rights as a sportbiker. It singles me out as a bad apple simply because of the bike-type I ride, and it makes me subject to closer police scrutiny for no reason. It is discrimination. It's the same thing as saying, "My mom was killed by a red-headed guy, so I now want a law to put restrictions on red-headed guys being allowed out of their homes."
These coercive, aggressive actions do motorcycling, and the intent of law, a huge disservice. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the bike type associated with the most injuries and fatalities is *not* sportbikes, it is cruisers. This bill chases phantoms, and in the process it does nothing more than muddying the waters for law enforcement, while making motorcycle licensing more expensive and complicated for those of us who bother with doing it right.
Most importantly, I believe this law would result in more pursuits, more singling-out and discrimination against an already demonized motorcycle type, and impossible enforcement from a practical standpoint. I talked to a retired cop about this bill, and he said he wouldn't even allow his squads to use the law as it's now drafted, because there's no reliable way in the field to determine when a motorcycle endorsement was issued.
If you're a Texas motorcyclist, please stand up against this bill by contacting your senator immediately.
To read a lively and well-informed online forum thread concerning this bill, visit Two Wheeled Texans.