Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lobbying DC for Biker's Rights

Tuesday October 23rd dawned with a heavy rain across Middle Tennessee and the prospect of rain for days. The MRF had issued a call to action for bikers from across the nation to come to DC and meet with Congressmen and Senators regarding the recent short sighted NTSB recommendations of mandatory helmet laws for all states and, while there, to ask for sponsorship of the HIPAA Recreational Injury Technical Corrections Act. I had just spent a lot of time making appointments with the Tennessee Congressional delegation and the trip was set!

It’s about 600 miles to DC from Nolensville and after picking up my lady Carol at 2PM, we set off for an all night drive, arriving at my brother’s place on Capitol Hill around 3AM. Straight to bed for a few hours then time to start making the rounds.

Jeff Hennie, VP of Government Relations and Lobbyist for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation was waiting for us at our first meeting with TN Congressman Zack Wamp. After a few minutes of small talk we got down to the business at hand and garnered a new co-sponsor for the HIPAA bill.

Next stop was Senator Corker’s office and a meeting with his staff. As is often the case, a planned meeting with a Congressman or Senator changes to a sit down with staff as votes are called on the floor of the House or Senate and this was the case here. The staff are often the key to making sure an issue gets the attention it deserves and we were pleased to meet with the Senator’s Transportation assistant. With so many issues in play at any given time in DC, these staffers are the engine that keeps the wheels turning and the legislators informed.

Senator Lamar Alexander’s office was next and with more votes on the Senate Floor we once again met with staff. While waiting, we were surprised to see recent Nashville Mayoral candidate Bob Clement come in for a meeting with other staffers. From there we hoofed it back over to the House office buildings where we took a quick lunch break before heading off to a meeting with Congressman John Duncan’s staff and the transportation assistant for Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis. It seems Wednesday in DC is a lot like Wednesday in the Tennessee Legislature, the busiest day of the week. The final stop of the day was with Congressman David Davis. He, too, was in the middle of a floor vote so we met with staff then we were escorted by TN State Rep Matt Hill’s brother Timothy to the Rayburn room in the Capitol and a quick photo op with the Congressman.

A quick cab ride had me back in the comfortable surroundings of my brother’s place. There’s nothing quite like having family 12 blocks from the Capitol. We enjoyed a nice evening of dinner, drinks and great conversation with my brother, his wife and Carol’s friend Howard Segermark, an early leader in the history of the MRF who has known my brother and his wife for over 40 years. Sometimes it really is a small world.

After a good seven hours of sleep it was time to hit the concrete again and Thursday morning’s first meeting was with none other than TN Congressman Jim Cooper, the same guy who introduced a national mandatory helmet billwhich became law in the early 1990’s only to see it go down in flames as bikers from across the country lobbied Washington to repeal that law and were successful in 1995.

Jeff Hennie had a conflicting meeting so I handled this one solo. Congressman Cooper was quite receptive to the issues and promised full consideration. He also took the opportunity to defend his position on helmets but took the time to listen to the other side of the story. I believe we opened a new line of communication that may be effective when we deal with the various issues bikers will face in the coming years. My impression is that Jim Cooper won’t be sponsoring any new helmet legislation in the near future.

With a short break in the schedule, I set off to see the Library of Congress and I highly recommend the tour for anyone visiting DC. Next up was my Congressman and current HIPAA bill co-sponsor Marsha Blackburn. After meeting with her Transportation aide we got a quick picture just as Tennessee State Senator Jim Tracy arrived in Marsha’s office. I’m not sure who was more surprised to see the other in DC, me or him. Senator Tracy is a long time supporter of our “Tennessee Freedom” efforts.

A quick meeting with John Duncan’s Transportation aide and a friendly sit down with Congressman Bart Gordon, also a HIPAA co-sponsor thanks to the effort of CMT/ABATE’s Robert “Johann” Forbus, concluded a great couple of days visiting the Tennessee delegation and building relationships that hopefully will serve us well in the future.

By the time it was all said and done my dogs were barking from all the walking but I felt like much was accomplished. I urge all freedom fighters to make the trip and help secure freedom and a safer riding environment for future generations of motorcyclists.

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