Posted by Chapin on Jun 11 2009
The recently concluded legislative session was a particularly challenging one for many individuals and groups. The Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition was no exception.
Prior to the start of the session, when it was clear that funding shortages would dominate State House discussions, we decided that we might have an opportunity to advance the Safe Passing legislation (in that it was not a bill that came with a price tag). You may recall that in the 2009 session, the Safe Passing bill was voted out of the Senate Transportation Committee (STC) and passed the full Senate. It then moved to the House side where it died because the House Transportation Committee (HTC) declined to take it up. The reasons for this were varied and included preoccupation with the budget and lack of time before the session ended.
So, in January of this year, at the start of the new biennium, we again urged the members of the STC to repeat their action of the last session. (This was necessary because the legislative slate is wiped clean every two years and bills that make it part way to becoming law must start all over again.) The members of the STC recommended our efforts be concentrated first on the House side as that is where they stalled last year.
While maintaining a dialogue with the STC, an effort was made to meet individually with the eleven members of the HTC to explain the need for the proposed legislation. As this committee has new blood with freshman reps Mollie Burke, Diane Lanpher, and Gale Courcelle who were all receptive to the idea, there was reason for optimism. As the deadline for single-sponsor legislation had passed, the only hope for advancement within the HTC was a committee-sponsored bill. Each member of the HTC was allowed (by the HTC chair) to choose three bills from the many that had been submitted for consideration.
Unfortunately, the Safe Passing bill was not in the top three choices of enough members of the HTC for it to see action this year. While the discussions were being held with members of the HTC, the STC offered a quid pro quo: The STC would advance the Safe Passing bill if bicycling two abreast became illegal in Vermont. The STC didn’t realize that bike/ped advocacy had won the right to ride two abreast (when not impeding the normal and reasonable movement of traffic) in the not too distant past. Obviously, this is not a deal that the VBPC could make.
Apart from the Safe Passing lobbying effort, the Coalition also worked to protect the flow of federal Transportation Enhancements funding from being stopped or diverted for other uses. Enhancements funding is intended to be used for applications such as bike paths, sidewalks, lighting, and historic preservation. As Enhancement monies are highly valued by many municipalities, legislators heard from numerous parties objecting to the administration’s plan. The members of the HTC solidly rejected the state’s proposal to divert this $3+ million per year distribution that Vermont receives. When the legislative session ended, Enhancements funding for FY 2009 was secure (and had been boosted somewhat by federal economic stimulus dollars). There is reason for concern for FY 2010 and FY 2011 as the state searches for funding to plug budgetary holes. Additionally, a recent AP news article indicated that Republican leaders in Washington (represented by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia) had proposed that the Obama administration eliminate the Enhancements program. It’s clear that we must remain vigilant as threats to Enhancements, at both the state and federal levels, will continue to be a very real concern.
The Coalition is organizing a meeting of bike/ped advocates in late June to develop our legislative strategy for the 2010 session. VBPC members and other recipients of this message who have a strong interest in aiding our legislative efforts are encouraged to respond to this email to find out how to assist.
The Coalition is grateful to all those who called, emailed, and wrote to lawmakers in response to our requests and email alerts. And, our course, the contributions of time and money from our supporters make it possible for our efforts to continue. We are always very appreciative of both. Thank you.
Nancy Schulz, Executive Director
Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition, (802) 225-8904, www.vtbikeped.org
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