Web Posted: 06/20/2009 12:00 CDT Governor slams door on cyclists
By Gary Scharrer and Peggy Fikac - Express-News
AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry, who recently broke his collarbone in a one-man mountain biking accident, stunned the cycling community Friday when he vetoed a “safe passing” bill that was a top priority for bikers and other vulnerable road users.
It was among 35 bills that Perry vetoed this session, along with measures that would have expanded the state's prekindergarten program and given the state new powers to seize children and their medical records without a parent's consent or a court hearing.
The veto of the cycling measure, which would have required motorists to give cyclists and other vulnerable road users at least 3 feet of clearance when passing on most highways, drew a strong reaction from some cyclists.
“We are stunned because he's our guy, and we feel disappointed, even betrayed by our guy,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, the educational arm of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. “The bicycling community will never forgive Gov. Perry.”
Perry had signed previous bills important for the cycling community, Stallings said.
Surveys show 55 percent of the 30,000 active Texas cyclists, who belong to a cyclist organization, participate in GOP primaries, Stallings said.
He also cited surveys indicating an estimated 4 million Texans ride bikes.
Vulnerable road users identified in SB 488 would have included pedestrians; highway construction and maintenance workers; tow truck operators; stranded motorists or passengers; people on horseback; bicyclists; motorcyclists; and moped riders.
Many already have operation regulations and restrictions in state law, Perry said.
“While I am in favor of measures that make our roads safer for everyone, this bill contradicts much of the current statute and places the liability and responsibility on the operator of a motor vehicle when encountering one of these vulnerable road users,” Perry said in his veto message. “In addition, an operator of a motor vehicle is already subject to penalties when he or she is at fault for causing a collision or operating recklessly, whether it is against a ‘vulnerable user' or not.”
Perry must sign or veto bills by Sunday's deadline, but the governor isn't expected to veto any more legislation. He also can allow legislation to pass into law without his signature.
Besides separate legislation, Perry issued line-item vetoes and signed the $182 billion state budget for the two-year period starting Sept. 1. He struck $288.9 million from the measure, largely due to spending associated with bills that didn't pass.
He said that under the measure, state general-revenue spending “would decrease by $1.6 billion, or 1.9 percent, compared to the current biennium, which has happened only once before in Texas since World War II.”
Lawmakers also had $12.1 billion in federal stimulus dollars to help balance the budget.
The governor's veto of a $25 million pre-K expansion program startled supporters, including Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, co-author of HB 130.
“I'm saddened and astonished,” he said. “We put a lot of work into passing that bill — a lot of compromise and a lot of late nights.”
Perry, in his veto message, said $25 million appropriated for the program should be used to expand the number of students served by the existing pre-K grant program.
He said it would serve more than 27,000 students over the next two years, “which is 21,000 students more than the estimated 6,800 students that would have been served under the bill's proposed program — or a 305 percent increase.”
“Expanding our current grant program, rather than creating an additional pre-kindergarten program,” he added, “will serve more students with greater needs.”
A group that advocates limited government embraced Perry's veto of the pre-K expansion bill.
“The Legislature erred in creating yet another expensive, pre-kindergarten program. Gov. Perry was right to veto this legislation, which would have been costly today, more costly tomorrow, and duplicative of efforts already available,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility
Bicyclists have been working on the “safe passing” bill for eight years and had built a strong, bipartisan consensus for the legislation, which passed, 142-0, in the state House and 25-6 in the Senate.
The governor's office never expressed any concern, Stallings said.
“The bill was well vetted and had support across the political spectrum. That he would do this and not talk to us (during the session), frankly, we are shocked.”
More than 1,000 Texans are killed in highway accidents each year, including about 400 pedestrians and about 50 cyclists, according to state records.
He called the legislation “our make-or-break, major No. 1 issue.”
The governor's veto of SB 1440, a bill that would have given the state new powers to seize children and their medical records without their parents' consent or a court hearing, created little surprise after even its House sponsor urged him to reject it.
Critics complained parents and their lawyers should have an opportunity to tell their side before Child Protective Services can seize a child's medical and school records or gain access to the child.
Perry should be applauded for supporting parental rights “and sending the message that our constitutional rights cannot be cast aside by unverified, uncorroborated anonymous tips,” said Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs at Free Market Foundation, one of more than a dozen organizations that have been urging Perry to veto SB 1440.
They warned Perry that the legislation violated established law, stripped children and parents of fundamental rights and opened the door to government intervention in the home.
“Texas children are not ‘children of the state,'” said Kelly Shackelford, president of Free Market Foundation.
Perry's 35 vetoes represents a sharp decrease from the 56 bills he vetoed after the 2007 regular legislative session. Perry set a record number of vetoes for a Texas governor during his first term when he vetoed 83 bills. He vetoed only 20 in 2005.
He also vetoed three resolutions this year.
The most bills that Gov. George W. Bush vetoed were 38 in 1997. Gov. Ann Richards' high veto mark was 36 in 1991. But Gov. Sam Houston only vetoed four bills in 1860. Governor slams door on cyclists