Lawmakers Restore Cooper Jones Bill Money In Transportation Account Will Fund Bicycle Safety Bill
A bicycle safety bill named for a Spokane teenager was sent to the governor in the last hour of the 1998 legislative session Thursday.
Passage of the Cooper Jones Act ended what one House member called the most convoluted, back-and-forth battle he’d seen in five years.
“I’ve never seen something go through here like this,” said Les Thomas, R-Kent. “It’s been massaged, it’s been mutilated, it’s been resurrected and it’s been re-resurrected.”
The bill, named for a 13-year-old bicycle enthusiast killed by a car last summer during a time trial near Cheney, was fought for by Eastern Washington lawmakers from both houses and both parties.
It will require some drivers in serious accidents to retake their driver’s test, will encourage drivers to learn about bicyclists’ rights, and will provide $100,000 for bicycle education safety grants.
The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Gary Locke.
The amount of money - and where it comes from - was at the root of the measure’s problems. Before they were solved, the bill came to votes on the House and Senate floors at least four times.
“I’m just glad to see we’ve finally done the right thing,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, one of the bill’s two main sponsors.
Originally, sponsors had proposed a 1 cent tax on the sale of bicycles, which could have raised as much as $1 million. Local, state and national bicycle clubs supported the tax. But Rep. Duane Sommers, R-Spokane, and Sens. James West, R-Spokane and Eugene Prince, R-Thornton, had trouble getting Republicans to accept a tax increase.
West, Senate budget chair, later found money in an account made up of cash that insurance companies pay to cover the costs of regulating their industry.
The argument: bicycle safety could help insurers save money.
But the House eventually stripped the bill of all its funding after insurance lobbyists complained that could lead to other raids of the account.
“Once you set the precedent, you end up paying for things completely unrelated to insurance,” said Kenton Brine, president of the Washington Insurance Association.
Having a bill with no money in it made Brown so livid she urged her colleagues to vote against the bill.
She claimed that “while half a loaf is better than no loaf, this is nothing but crumbs.”
West agreed at the last minute to help her defeat the bill, then later brought it back with a new funding source - a transportation safety account.
That angered House transportation committee members who argued the account was intended to be used to cover costs for things such as driver’s licenses, and will likely face a budget deficit next year.
But in the end, West and Sommers reached a compromise. The $100,000 would come from that account but only until insurance companies begin donating money as they had promised earlier in the session.
“And believe me, we will be calling all of those people who said they will be there with money and make sure they actually are there with money,” said Rep. Karen Schmidt, R-Bainbridge Island, the transportation committee chair.
When the bill finally passed the House about 9 p.m. Thursday, the entire chamber gave Sommers, the prime sponsor, a standing ovation.