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The 2007 Legislative session has ended and the Safe Passing bill, SB 248, withered on the vine. SB 248 was one of a couple of hundred bills that did not get a vote on the House floor before the clock struck midnight.
The bill made it through 90% of the legislative process, thanks to the grassroots efforts of Texas cyclists who contacted their State Senators and Representatives. The TBC legislative team, in addition to sending out the familiar action alerts to Texas cyclists, steered the bill(s) to get hearings, through the committee hearings, securing the votes one by one, hundreds of phone calls, pounding the hallways to 180 Senate and Representative offices, answering legislators questions and concerns, preparing research, engaging VIP’s in different key districts to contact their elected officials, fielding dozens of media calls to get the word out about the bill, etc
Only 23% of the 6,190 bills that were filed in 2007 made it through the legislative gauntlet this session. Although cyclists will be disappointed that we did not get the 3ft minimum passing clearance passed into law this time around, it was substantially more successful than in past sessions.
Texas Bicycle Coalition first proposed the 3ft law in 2001 as part of the Matthew Brown Act, authored by Representative Roberto Gutierrez, D-McAllen, in the House and Senator Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, in the Senate. We had to remove the 3 ft Safe Passing section to save the rest of the bill (Safe Routes to School program). In 2003, the legislature made the historic change from Democratic to Republican majority and it was not realistic to bring it up that time around.
In 2005 the bill as introduced, SB 859, authored by Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, met stiff opposition from police departments and judges. After simplifying the bill language, we overcame the opposition from judges in 2005. We managed to get 17 votes in the Texas Senate providing a solid majority, but not the 2/3rds required to pass a bill in the Senate There was no companion bill author in the House.
By 2007 we had overcome the objections of the police departments and insurance industry concerns to the Safe Passing bill. SB 248 would be authored once again by the great champion of cycling in the Texas Legislature, Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and the House companion, HB 1790, authored by Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving. Both authors worked very hard to get the bills passed. We also had the support of Senate co-authors, John Carona, R-Dallas, Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Representative Bill Callegari, R-Katy, joined Harper-Brown as co-author on HB 1790. Duel, identical bills enabled SB 248 and HB 1790 to follow two legislative tracks at the same time, increasing the chances of success.
TBC alerted cyclists that two amendments were added to SB 248 before it left the Senate. Senator Dan Patrick, R-Houston, negotiated a “friendly” amendment with us that would have required a rear tail light for night cycling. The Patrick amendment could have saved more lives.
Senator Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, attached an amendment that was probably intended to gut the bill. The Brimer amendment would have confused police and motorists by excluding roads with no shoulders from the 3ft rule. Although there were many merits to passing SB 248 in spite of the Brimer amendment, the TBC Board and legislative team had a plan to remove the Brimer amendment in the House and send it back to the Senate for “concurrence”. Unfortunately, SB 248 became another casualty of the 2007 leadership struggle in the House and it died waiting for a vote.
Each session presents its own unique opportunities and challenges. Perhaps 2009 will be the session to see the Safe Passing bill through to the governor’s signature. Cyclists have proven to be a formidable grassroots force. If we cyclists can continue to stick together then we can make Texas one of the great states for cycling.