Congress adjourned for its annual summer recess on August 4th and will be out of session until they return to Washington, D.C., on September 2nd. During this summer recess, when most senators and representatives will be back in their states and congressional districts, is a prime time for motorcyclists to secure additional support for our 1997 legislative agenda.
The MRF has been working hard to get a number of provisions that benefit or protect motorcyclists in the legislation to re-authorize the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The ISTEA legislation was delayed while Congress worked out the budget and other financial issues affecting transportation funding. Two actions by Congress in the first days of August, passing the balanced budget bill and in the tax cut bill shifting $7 billion annually in gas taxes, returning those funds to the Highway Trust Fund, has set the funding frame work for ISTEA. With that frame work set, both the House and Senate committee chairmen have stated they expect to take action on their versions of the ISTEA re-authorization legislation when Congress returns from its summer recess in early September. Federal highway funding to the states authorized under the current ISTEA bill expires on September 30th, so there will be frenetic activity on this legislation throughout September.
Through visits to our nation's capital by motorcyclists from 25 states and grass roots activism back home, we are doing well with most of our federal legislative agenda; preventing new penalties on states without helmet laws, ensuring the Intelligent Transportation System addresses the needs of motorcyclists, prohibiting the banning of motorcycles from public roads, ensuring motorcycle safety stays a national priority in highway safety and shifting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) focus to accident prevention instead of injury prevention. I believe motorcyclists have laid the ground work to be successful on these issues when the legislation moves in September.
However, we need to do more on one issue to be successful. We need to step up on our efforts to stop NHTSA from using federal tax dollars to lobby state legislators on the helmet law issue. This is by far the most controversial issue we are advancing this year. And, we have strong opposition starting to develop against us!
In order to be successful in stopping NHTSA's lobbying we must create an outrage in Congress. There are two activities that NHTSA has recently undertaken that are prime examples of the inappropriate use of federal tax dollars.
First, NHTSA has produced a new version of its 1991 brochure in support of helmet laws. This brochure is an advocacy piece to be used to lobby state legislators in favor of helmet laws. In the new version, NHTSA has put considerable effort into "beefing up" the content in support of helmet laws. The brochure, which has already been printed and is available to the public, is titled: Motorcycle Helmets: The Facts of Life. (For official copies call NHTSA at 202-366-1770.)
On top of that, MRF has uncovered a NHTSA contract (DTNH22-96-C-05128) for production of a major lobbying package. This lobbying package will be, as stated in the contract, "a media package that includes a 12 to 15 minute video presentation and a complementary `white paper' that presents the injury prevention and economic benefits of enacting mandatory helmet laws for all riders. The package will also include a video news release and brochure each serving as an executive summary of the appropriate counterpoint." This lobbying package will cost over $149,000.00 of your tax dollars, and that does not count reproduction, printing and distribution costs.
Now for the killer! Do you know how NHTSA justified producing this lobby package? By calling motorcyclists liars. I quote from the background section of the contract: "Many individuals and motorcycle riding groups are opposed to mandatory helmet use laws and have been very active in states that have proposed mandatory helmet legislation and states with existing laws. These groups often use misleading and incorrect information to pressure lawmakers into defeating legislation or into amending existing legislation." I hope you, like me, are furious that official NHTSA documents accuse motorcyclists of "often" lying to state legislators.
Better yet, do you know how NHTSA justified the contract financially? By pleading poverty for the insurance and medical industries. The contract states: "Most mandatory helmet law supporters typically have limited resources or materials to present accurate information regarding the effectiveness of mandatory motorcycle helmet legislation and to answer challenges offered by anti-helmet groups." Now, just who is it that is using "misleading and incorrect information"? If there is one thing the insurance and medical lobbies don't lack it's money!
The contract's purpose is to help enact helmet laws and defeat efforts to repeal helmet laws in the states. NHTSA plans to have this lobbying package ready in time for distribution to state legislators as they come into session in January of 1998. If you do not want to see these lobbying materials show up in your state capitol next year then you need to act now. I ask you to write, call or visit with your federal representative and senators today!
You can contact your representative and senators in Washington by calling 202-224-3121 or 202-225-3121, or by writing the following addresses: Rep. ________, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515; Senator _________, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510. For information on who your elected officials are you can contact the MRF at 202-546-0983.
I also encourage you to use Congress' summer recess to personally speak to your senators and representative. Most of them will be holding office hours at their district offices and will be attending events around the state. Call their office and ask for a personal meeting with them. Or, find out if they are holding a town hall meeting. If so, attend it and find a way to talk to them about your concerns. You may also look for appearances by members of your Congressional delegation at county and state fairs and other public festivals and parades leading up to Labor Day.
Your message to them simply needs to be that this type of lobbying activity by NHTSA with federal tax dollars is wrong. Also, let them know you don't appreciate government bureaucrats, who are paid with your taxes, calling you and other motorcyclists liars. Ask them to help us get a provision in the ISTEA re-authorization legislation that would "prohibit NHTSA from using any funds authorized under this act to produce or distribute lobbying materials, organize lobby groups, or to directly lobby state legislators on the helmet law issue."
You should also let them know we thought we had taken the federal government out of the helmet law issue in 1995 with repeal of the Section 153 penalties on States without helmet laws. Instead, NHTSA has been getting more aggressive in lobbying on helmet laws. All we are asking for is that federal taxes we pay not be used by NHTSA to lobby against our interests in our own States.
To be successful in stopping NHTSA from lobbying state legislators you must act today! We need to have U.S. Senators and Representatives coming back to Washington on September 2nd fired up and demanding action by Congress to stop NHTSA from lobbying state legislators on the helmet law issue.
By the way, have you gotten your NHTSA vaccination from Dr. Martinez, yet? In yet another example of NHTSA officials' arrogant attitude and aggressive lobbying activities, in a recent letter to Michigan state legislators, NHTSA Administrator, Ricardo Martinez, M.D., writes: "Like other preventable diseases, motorcycle riders can be vaccinated to prevent most head injuries by simply wearing a helmet."
For more information on NHTSA's activities or help in getting our message across to members of your Congressional delegation contact Wayne Curtin, MRF's vice president of government relations, at 202-546-0983 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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