Vulnerable User Bill may be dead

Our vulnerable users legislation is an attempt to put the scales of justice back in balance.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say the VU Bill is on life support, but metaphors aside, as the Wisconsin legislative session draws to a close April 3rd, it appears our legislators will not get a chance to vote on our Vulnerable User Bill (SB307 and AB388).  Although we believe the VU Bill would pass a voice vote with wide bipartisan support, neither Senate nor Assembly leadership is willing to move the bill in its current form to the floor for a vote. It appears that there are still a handful of key Republicans who are opposed to the bill.

In response to whispers that the opposition is to the penalty enhancements in the bill, we have drafted an amended version that only includes the educational components and will try to get that introduced in the Assembly. Keep your fingers crossed on that, but don’t hold your breath. We will have an update as soon as we know more.

While this is frustrating, it is part of politics and our legislative process. Sometimes it takes more than one session even for majority party legislators to pass important legislation that has broad bipartisan support. For instance over the years, Representative Jim Ott has proposed eight bills to toughen the state’s drunk driving laws. One of his bills to require first-time offenders to appear in court in front of a judge has finally passed the Assembly, and looks like it should pass the Senate, but it has taken multiple sessions to get this far and there is still no guarantee it will be enacted into law.

Thanks to all our members who helped us this year, such as Maja Holcomb, shown here speaking before the Assembly Transportation Committee in support of the Vulnerable User Bill. She spoke about when her friend Troy Tousey was killed on a group ride in Sheboygan County.

The point is, we believe the laws to protect more vulnerable road users need to be strengthened and we will not give up just because we did not get the bill to the floor for a vote this session.  Our memories of David Landgraff, Robert Gunderson, Tammy Gass, Jeff Littmann and all the other innocent people killed riding their bicycles will keep us fighting to breathe life back into this bill next session and try to nudge the scales of justice closer to balance.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 11 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave lives with his wife Liz and daughter Frankie in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's west side.

16 thoughts on “Vulnerable User Bill may be dead

  1. I think I’m going to be ill. Looking at all the meaningless and self-serving legislation that is being passed only adds to it. At least I’ll be spending spring riding in Belgium and France where drivers know how to use their brains and brakes. If you hit a cyclist or pedestrian there you are in huge trouble. I wonder what carnage awaits us this year in WI? Ride safely and courteously my friends even though it may not matter much.

    • Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but don’t get sick before you head to the Lowlands for the Classics Phil! We will keep working on this.

    • Nick,

      Well, if the leadership in either the Senate or House wanted to move the bill, they could. They are not doing so because they have heard some of their members have problems with the bill, but they have not told us who. We could guess, but since that will do little good, it seems counter productive to name people we want to sway next session. Such is politics.

  2. Well that stinks, but doesn’t surprise me. If you manage to get the education-only bill introduced, I hope you come back with the full bill again next session. An education-only bill isn’t going to make a bit of difference on Wisconsin roads.

    And if you know who the legislators are holding this up, you should let your members know. Those folks deserved to be publicly shamed.

    • Kevin,

      If we do get a stripped-down bill through this session, we will certainly try for one with penalty enhancers next time.

  3. The motorcycle lobby ABATE was the only group/person to speak publicly against the bill. their representative/lobbyist promised that “this bill won’t see the light of day”. I thought he was wrong, at the time. I guess he/they got to 3 or 4 Republican legislators, who got to Senate leader Fitzgerald. So even though the bill very likely would pass, if brought up for a vote in the legislature, it won’t be brought up by “the leadership”.
    Sad, really.

    It seemed like the DA’s wanted a tool to work with, other than a traffic ticket or a felony. this bill would have given them something in between those two.

    I guess we can look forward to more injustice, more motorists who have killed pedestrians and cyclists getting a mere traffic ticket for their offense.
    and that is clearly not truth, justice and the American way.

    • Greg,

      I wouldn’t blame this on ABATE’s objections. Although I am as confounded as you are about why they objected given so many of the other ABATE chapters in other states support VU Bills, I think ideology is more to blame than inside baseball.

      Given the strong bipartisan support base we already have, I hope it is only a matter of time before we find out who the handful of legislators are who object and help them see the light.

      Still, I am as frustrated as the rest of you.

  4. It’s embarrassing to have a home in a state where key legislators lack total common sense. All they understand is how much money an organization can contribute to their campaigns. Educational component won’t do anything to lessen the risk to cyclists. What’s the point.

    • Stuart,

      It takes tremendous patience, a thick skin and unwavering confidence to work in politics these days, but I feel you on this.

      I do have to disagree about the educational component. All traffic safety issues require a 5 E approach, including Engineering, Enforcement, Education, Encouragement and Evaluation. Different problems may rely more heavily on one E than another for a solution, but in the end, more education is always part of the solution.

      • While I won’t go so far as to say there is no point to education, I will say I can’t see a point to legislation that contains only education. I will, therefore, echo Stuart’s “What’s the point?” We can pass a law mandating that we teach drivers that it’s a bad idea to run over and kill bicyclists, or we can just do that without a law. If the point of the law is to protect vulnerable users, passing a law that fails to do that in hopes that we can pass a future law that does seems counterproductive and a waste of resources. Those who object can rightfully say they already passed the bill we asked for.

        • Steve,

          Our original VU bill was half education and half penalty enhancement. We feel both parts of the safety solution are important. We have also heard from many people who argue doubling fines and increasing criminal charges won’t have any effect. So we have another camp that thinks education is the most important part of the bill and if we can educate people about the rules for driving around vulnerable users before they get a license, that might have a bigger safety effect than the threat of punishment after they get behind the wheel. If we get half of our bill in this session, we don’t think it will hurt our chances of getting the other half next session.

          Of course we could educate people without changing the law, and we already work with drivers ed instructors to do that across the state and through our Share & Be Aware safety encouragement program, but adding the requirement to the law is important.

  5. Sen Julie Lassa’s office just called me to thank me for my letter to Sen Lassa on the VU bill and to share that it didn’t look like this was going to come up for a vote. The staffer reported he was not clear on why this would not be coming up for a vote. I encouraged him to contact the Bike Fed Madison office for more information and perhaps you can contact Sen Lassa to see if she can encourage her colleagues privately to bring VU bill to the floor for a vote.

  6. There is a serious problem in Wisconsin regarding “enforcement,” of bicycle laws. Wisconsin police officers need to learn and enforce the bicycle laws. Former police officer Peter Flucke’s class on pedestrian and bicycle training for law enforcement should be heavily used. In motor vehicle vs. bicycle crashes the police often claim they cannot determine fault. How often does that happen when two cars crash at an intersection? Every time an at fault driver hits a bicyclist and is not even cited with a fine it makes the roads more dangerous for all of us. Why is it that the police cite someone for dui with a .07 bac when stopped for a license plate light, but when a driver turns left into a bicyclist traveling straight and injures a human being the police claim they can’t determine fault?

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