ABATE of MN's Road Guarding Bill Signed into Law

How a Bill Becomes Law

Back in the summer of 2010, a Major in the Minnesota State Patrol suggested that A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota sponsor legislation to allow motorcyclists to do “road guarding” at intersections during large bike runs and charity events. He had no specific ideas on how the rules would work, but was concerned about the large costs law enforcement incurs when asked to block traffic. Getting squad cars rolling and two officers suited up, many times on overtime, for just a few minutes work is very cost prohibitive. And if an emergency happened in other parts of the district they sometimes could not provide the promised service, leaving the event organizers wondering how to proceed lawfully and safely. In Minnesota, only law enforcement officers and authorized agents can legally stop traffic. While many civilian bikers have done so over the years, their actions were illegal and many received citations. A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota has always felt it was ironic that someone could be improving the safety of an intersection and violating the law at the same time! A solution had to be available. My research found a couple areas of state law that allowed trained civilians to stop and block traffic. One was the school crossing guards. Surely a biker is every bit as responsible as an elementary age kid. Another was funeral procession escorts. But they operate under a very strange area of Minnesota law that would not work for us. A third option was the wide load-extended load truck escorts. This seemed to make the most sense and was the model we focused on. But one thing was sure – this would not be an easy task. Allowing an insured company employee to block the road is quite different than a motorcycle run volunteer. After I wrote about it in the Road Noise and talked about it at the A.B.A.T.E. Board meeting, many members went back home and asked local law enforcement and legislators for support. Some liked the idea. However many were sympathetic to our issue but could not support. But one group of A.B.A.T.E. members took a very proactive approach. Our Northwest District Director at the time, Edgar Burke, and several members of the Freedom First Riders chapter had volunteered to serve on the Otter Tail County Safe Roads Coalition. They took a very positive course of action which included working with local law enforcement, county highway officials and asked many questions. This culminated with me and Minnesota Representative Bud Nornes attending their meeting and working on a plan of attack. Representative Nornes is a very well respected member of the House and his knowledge and common sense made working with him a pleasure. Representative Nornes and I then set up a time to meet and discuss the issue in his office. I invited Frank Ernst to come along and Rep. Nornes invited a House Research Analyst to join us. We came up with the framework of A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota’s Road Guarding bill. We also asked all interested parties to meet and discuss. This is a very important part of the process. There is no point in pursuing something if there is overwhelming resistance. And many times you can derail those opposed by simply explaining the issue in detail. This group consisted of people from the Department of Public Safety (including the Motorcycle Safety Program), the Minnesota State Patrol, the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, Representative Nornes and A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota members. This was a great group of people who respected the concerns of all involved and offered to support the legislation. Everyone agreed that if the training was too complicated and the costs too great, interest would be low and people would not participate. We had a House bill, we had support of law enforcement, and a commitment from DPS that they could make this work. Next a great friend of Minnesota motorcyclists, Senator Gretchen Hoffman introduced the bill in the Senate. Both Representative Nornes and Senator Hoffman lined up bipartisan coauthors and things were progressing nicely. But a funny thing happened during committee hearings; the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association testified against the bill saying it was unworkable in “cities of the first class” (Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rochester). OK, if these four constantly cash strapped cities do not want the economic activity that large motorcycle runs bring, fine. An amendment was written to require “permission” from those police chiefs, not just “notification” as the bill language stated. Just remember that the next time you are planning an event in our cities of the first class! But then the Chiefs Association came to the next hearing of the bill with a request that all runs through all cities, large and small, be required to receive written permission. That was too much for the authors who scolded the testifiers for not bringing their concerns to the table when asked, getting the amendment they wanted at the first committee meeting and then asking for more. At this point the Chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation Committees decided to include our language in their omnibus policy bills (a very nice place to be). In the end, common sense carried the day and with Governor Dayton’s signature on May 10th, the bill became law. This will take a while to get fully implemented as the DPS needs to write the rules on who can be certified to Road Guard. And if we disagree with the rules they come up with, A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota will be there to contest the rules and offer changes. I will update you as things progress. Keep in mind, this option is totally voluntary. Nothing in this language requires or mandates anything. Those who want to continue contracting with law enforcement can. Those who want to obey all traffic control devices on their runs can. And those who wish to violate the law and be subjected to fines and penalties can continue to do so. This is simply an option for those who want to participate in the program. I attended and testified on A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota’s behalf at every committee hearing this bill received. I can guarantee that passage of this legislation would not have been possible without having a strong organization like A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota as the engine and the incredible passion that bikers bring to the table as the fuel. Also, A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota’s professional lobbying team did an outstanding job guiding this through the process. Lastly, I want to thank some true champions: Edgar Burke, Jodi and Monty Ohlrogge, Cal Wolf and Frank Ernst for attending the committee hearings. All of the Otter Tail County Safe Roads group, including Sheriff Schluter and Jane Patrick. Bill Shafer and everyone at DPS for the commitment to implementing this program. All of the House and Senate Coauthors to HF2008 and SF1719. Transportation Committee Chairs Gimse and Beard for including this in their omnibus bill. And most importantly, our bill authors, Representative Nornes and Senator Hoffman. They just simply would not take no for an answer. And many thanks to each and every A.B.A.T.E. of Minnesota member. We could not be successful without you!

This is How a Bill Becomes Law

Yours in freedom,

Mack Backlund

State Coordinator ABATE of MN