ABATE of Minnesota, Straight River Chapter, in the News

House candidates take questions from motorcycle organization

By MATT HUDSON mhudson@owatonna.com | Posted: Saturday, October 11, 2014 5:03 pm

OWATONNA — Three state House candidates covered a variety of issues Saturday at a forum hosted by the Straight River Chapter of American Bikers for Awareness, Training and Education.

Bev Cashman, Rep. John Petersburg and Rep. Patti Frtiz fielded questions from the audience. The DFLer Cashman and Republican Petersburg are running in district 24A, which includes Waseca and Owatonna. Fritz is a DFLer running in 24B, which covers Faribault and Medford.

The group said that Brian Daniels, who is challenging Fritz, was scheduled to attend but did not appear.

One of the larger topics brought up by the group was the profiling of bikers. Chapter leaders, as well as many members of the audience, talked about a growing issue of businesses refusing to serve people who wear motorcycle garb, such as vests with patches.

Others said that police will pull bikers over, go through long searches and questioning and issue no ticket in the end.

Chris Nagy, representative for the local chapter, said that it will be a prominent issue for ABATE in upcoming lawmaking sessions. A similar law was passed in Washington state in 2011.

“One of our legislative priorities this year is to get an anti-profiling bill passed,” he said.

Petersburg said that the Legislature has a tough time telling local departments how to treat certain groups, but offered a more broad example.

“However, we can enforce common rights,” he said.

Fritz said that she was unaware of this problem, but added that it should be addressed. She cautioned the group to have their “ducks in a row” before lobbying lawmakers. Fritz suggested that they publicize their public services, like fundraisers, to help improve public relations.

As she was praising motorcyclists for the positive work they do, she made a comparison that elicited a few grumbles in the crowd.

“You’re not the Hell’s Angels,” Fritz said.

An audience member shot back that the comment was an example of that negative perception. Nagy added that many Hell’s Angels are good people.

Another legislative topic that the group brought up was helmet laws. ABATE, which has 25 chapters in the state, opposes the enforcement of helmets for adult riders.

Fritz said that such a bill would be “dead in the water” under her watch. Petersburg agreed.

There was a long conversation about enforcement of distracted driving. ABATE wants to increase the penalty for negligent drivers who kill or heavily injure someone else. The group feels that the gap between simple misdemeanor and felony charges is too wide in those cases and that a gross misdemeanor level should be added.

Petersburg said that an added penalty may not be enough.

“It probably isn’t going to impact their driving before that (accident),” he said.

Nagy said the tougher laws could precede a larger cultural shift, like in the case of drunken driving.

The conversation shifted from penalties to enforcement of distracted driving, especially the use of mobile phones. Cashman said that many cultural changes have happened as the result of awareness campaigns, but gave specific legislation a “maybe.”

Fritz said that it is an ongoing issue in the Legislature, and a tough habit to break for many.

“I do think it’s going to take something pretty tough to change that.

Other topics in the forum included medical cannabis. The three candidates supported the idea in Minnesota, where the use of cannabis is strictly limited. The candidates also voiced support for a renewed focus on career avenues other than four-year colleges, such as technical schools and apprenticeships.

Earlier in the campaign season, ABATE sent out questionnaires to candidates across the state. Petersburg and Cashman both replied in support of the survey’s three positions.

Those positions were to oppose helmet laws for adults, support tougher penalties for careless drivers who kill or greatly injure and oppose no-fault insurance for motorcyclists.