Not sure my heart can take all this good news at one time, starting with the defeat of the Hilbert-Gray ordinance in Richmond City Council on Monday night by a 6-3 vote with a number of RABA members included in what one account called 65 and another called “over 100” who testified against the proposal which would have permanently barred the installation of bike lanes on about 3.5 miles of Brook Rd. in Richmond’s Northside.
As Champe Burnley noted to me today, it wasn’t that long ago that he and I might have been among only a handful that would have been there to testify, and how heartwarming it was to see how far we have come in expanding the number of people who turned out to express their interest in continuing to expand the city’s bike infrastructure.
Then today, although 15 minutes after the Senate’s adjournment turned out to be not until 4:25, when first we heard Williamsburg’s Sen. Monty Mason present his SB1768, prohibiting and making it a class 1 misdemeanor for a driver to be using a handheld personal communication device in a work zone. Without much debate, it was reported by an 11-4 vote with only Chairman Obenshain, and Sens. McDougle, Chafin, & Sturtevant voting against.
And it was not until about 5:20 before Sen. Stuart’s SB1341 was heard. As is customary, Sen. Stuart, who was acting as Chairman in the Senate Courts Committee, as Sen. Obenshain was out of the room, called all the bills carried by Senators who were not on the Committee first before he asked Sen. Tommy Norment to take over as Chair and stepped down in front to present the bill, which is identical to Del. Chris Collins’ HB1811 prohibiting the use of a handheld personal communication device while driving.
He started by stating that he had voted in opposition to this bill in the past but had now come to realize that so many drivers are doing it that it has become such a serious problem that the time has come for a bill like this to be passed. A Sheriff in uniform from one of the distant counties led off those testifying in favor of the bill, followed by me, Champe Burnley, the Chairman of Drive Smart VA,(who has led the campaign for the passage of a bill like this) and representatives of AAA and several Auto Insurance companies.
After hearing all those testifying, the Committee (most of whom are attorneys in their day jobs) went to work on the language of the bill, with our friend Ryan McDougle from Hanover county starting a debate over what constitutes “held”? Could that be in your pocket? No, pocket would be “on your person” while held generally is interpreted as meaning in your hand. A little more of this lawyer’s debate and wordsmithing, until Sen. Norment had had enough, ruling that “handheld” is clear enough wording to be generally understood, and calling for the vote, which came up on the board shortly with 13 names in Green and only Chafin and Obenshain (who was out of the room, so someone must have been holding his proxy) in Red.
Not unanimous, but having been on the losing end of numerous bills in the 19 sessions I have been coming down here, 13-2 (with my patron plus 6 of the names in green being R’s) was an outstanding result. Too early in the process to be doing high 5’s yet, but this cleared a big hurdle and I think we’ve got a real chance to go all the way. Big Thanks to Janet Brooking and Drive Smart for leading the effort!
Then, at the end of the day, I got word that Sen. Bill DeSteph from Virginia Beach had come through as we had asked him to do and cast the vote he had been absent for last Wednesday in Senate Transportation when we had come out with a 6-6 loss on Sen Surovell’s Vulnerable Road User bill. That result for SB1550 now changes from a 6-6 loss to a 7-5 win and the bill now goes on to the Senate Floor. Also a big win, but one that cost me two bottles of champagne, since I had bet two of our team that the posted result wouldn’t be changed, since it rarely does. Not as hopeful here as I am for the Cell Phone ban bill, since I’m pretty sure it will clear the Senate, and we may get the Vulnerable road use through there also, but after crossover, SB1550 may have to go to House Trans Sub 2, where Chairman Garrett rarely looks favorably on our bike safety bills . This may be an exception, however, so lets keep working and get them both through the Senate and then take it from there.
Now is the time for everyone to call your Senators or send them an email asking them to support both of the bike safety bills SB1341 & SB1550 on the floor when they show up soon and let’s see if we can keep things moving ahead. If you haven’t yet been following along, or don’t know who your legislators are, get acquainted with the https://virginiageneralassembly.gov website and help get these bills across the finish line