Stopping NHTSA's Lobbying

Motorcyclists won a big victory in 1995. In repealing the federal penalties on states without helmet laws, we thought the message from Congress was clear: The federal government should get out of the issue of helmet laws and let the state legislatures decide the issue!

Well, some bureaucrats at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must not have been listening to the debate on the repeal. Because, in 1996 we started to see an increase in activities by NHTSA in the area of lobbying for and providing support to organizations lobbying for helmet laws. When the MRF talked to NHTSA officials about this in the summer of 1996 the response was: "Yes, Congress repealed the penalties, but they did not say we couldn't lobby. If Congress had wanted NHTSA to stop lobbying activities on the helmet law issue they would have said so." Versions of this statement have been repeated to motorcyclists ever since.

One of the top legislative goals of the MRF in 1997 was to stop NHTSA from using tax dollars to lobby for helmet laws and to organize and train helmet law supporters. MRF's position is that lobbying should be funded by private money. Federal tax dollars and federal employees should not be used to lobby state and local legislatures. What we have accomplished in 1997 is to lay the ground work and move the issue forward. Congress is sending an unmistakable message to NHTSA: Stop using tax dollars to lobby.

In early 1997, through MRF programs and the AMA's Washington Seminar, 32 states sent motorcyclists to Washington to meet with members of Congress and lay out motorcyclists' 1997 legislative agenda. Several of the Representatives and Senators we met with took interest in the NHTSA lobbying issue. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) requested a GAO audit of NHTSA's activities. Several members of Congress wrote letters to NHTSA inquiring about their activities and registering objections to NHTSA lobbying. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) and Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) began a committee investigation of NHTSA's lobbying activities.

Then in September 1997, the U.S. House of Representatives' Science Committee approved for floor action the Surface Transportation Research and Development Act, H.R. 860. Included in the bill offered by Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and the committee's ranking Democrat George Brown (D-California) is a provision which prohibits officers and employees of the U.S. Department of Transportation from lobbying Federal, State and local officials.

Then came late October, when on Wednesday, October 22, 1997, Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) introduced the "National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Reauthorization Act of 1997" (H.R.2691). Section 3 of H.R.2691, titled "Restrictions On Lobbying Activities," prohibits NHTSA from lobbying State or local legislatures. On Thursday, October 23, 1997, Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) and Phil Gramm (R-Texas) filed an amendment to be offered to the ISTEA II highway bill, S.1173. This amendment would ban the Department of Transportation, including NHTSA, from lobbying and organizing lobby activities to influence State and local legislation.

On Wednesday, October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives' subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection held a hearing and marked up and passed on to the full Commerce Committee the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Reauthorization Act of 1997, H.R.2691. Section 3, that would prohibit NHTSA from lobbying State and local legislators, was not changed in the markup. Freshman Congressman John Shimkus (R-Illinois) is commended by the MRF for his diligent work on the Commerce Committee to ensure this provision banning NHTSA lobbying activities was included in H.R.2691.

All of these actions should be sending a loud and clear message to NHTSA. Congress does not want NHTSA using federal tax dollars to lobby state and local legislators. Let's just hope the bureaucrats at NHTSA are listening. But, motorcyclists must keep up the pressure until NHTSA is prohibited by law from lobbying.

Congress has now adjourned until late January. The Senate will re-convene on January 26, 1998 and the House of Representatives on January 27, 1998. However, all of these bills and activities will carry over into the second session of the 105th Congress. The two bills H.R.860 and H.R.2691 will either move and be adopted as stand alone bills or they will be merged with the ISTEA re-authorization legislation (H.R.2400) that is expected to be enacted by late spring or early summer of 1998. For more information on the specifics of each of these bills you can call the MRF office at 202-546-0983. The wording of the provisions banning NHTSA lobbying in H.R.860, H.R.2691 and the Campbell-Gramm Amendment is listed below.

Motorcyclists are encouraged to meet with their Senators and Representatives while they are back in your state during the current Congressional recess. When members of Congress return in late January of 1998, we need them to come back prepared to take the final actions that will end NHTSA's lobbying activities. Your actions back home over the next two months is what will make the difference that will truly leave the decision of helmet laws in the hands of state legislators, without federal government lobbying and strong arming.

The text of the provision in H.R.860 banning lobbying by DOT officers and employees reads as follows:

(a) PROHIBITION OF LOBBYING ACTIVITIES. - No funds appropriated to the Secretary of Transportation shall be available for any activity whose purpose is to influence any pending Federal, State, or local legislation, except that this subsection shall not prevent officers or employees of the United States or its departments or agencies from communicating to Members of Congress on the request of any Member of Congress, through the proper channels, requests for legislation or appropriations which they deem necessary for the efficient conduct of the public business. Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit officers or employees of the United States or its departments or agencies from testifying before any Federal, State or local legislative body upon the invitation of such legislative body."

The text of Section 3 of H.R.2691 reads as follows:

Subchapter I of chapter 301 of title 49, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
§ 30105. Restrictions on lobbying activities
"No funds appropriated to the Secretary pursuant to section 30104 or 32102 may be available for any activity specifically designed to advocate or oppose the adoption of any specific legislative proposal pending before any State or local legislature.".

Mr. CAMPBELL (for himself and Mr. Gramm) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by them to the bill, S. 1173, supra; as follows:
At the appropriate place in the bill, insert the following:

(a) Prohibition on Lobbying Activities.--(1) No funds authorized in this title shall be available for any activity to build support for or against, or to influence the formulation, or adoption of State or local legislation, unless such activity is consistent with previously-existing Federal mandates or incentive programs.
(b) Nothing in this section shall prohibit officers or employees of the United States or its departments or agencies from testifying before any State or local legislative body upon the invitation of such legislative body.

NEWS RELEASES & RIDER ALERTS   Current issues   News archive   Position papers
EVENTS & CONFERENCES   Posters   Registration   Video highlights
MRF REPORTS   Current reports   Report archive
REPS PAGE   State Reps   About the Reps/Program
ABOUT THE MRF   Mission   Core Values   MRF DC Office   Officers/Directors   Legislative Agenda
SUPPORTERS   Organizations   Members   MRF PAC   Join the MRF  
LINKS   MRF's favorite links   Research sites

Top of Page
Highway bill update