Sometimes, in this job, you just get a funny feeling about what might happen next.
That happened recently when a bill was filed in the state House with an odd title: “DOT/No Discrimination Against Motorcyclists.”
At any other time in history, that might not seem weird. But given the recent and not-too-distant past, this one caught my attention. Think discrimination. Think motorcycles.
The bill, filed by Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has to do with motorcycles and parking garages. When motorcyclists stop for a ticket, or to pay and leave a garage, the gates, or so we’ve been told, can have trouble sensing motorcycles.
As such, North Carolina is sprinkled with government-owned parking garages that prohibit motorcycle parking out of fears for safety of cyclists and potential legal consequences from gates crashing down on them. The bill would require any parking deck funded with public dollars to make “reasonable accommodations” for motorcycles. According to the bill summary drafted by General Assembly staff, the legislation would prohibit the state Department of Transportation from “taking any action that discriminates, or has the effect of discriminating, against a motorcyclist.”
The measure passed favorably through the House Transportation Committee. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee, where bills can go to die or – at times – to get rewritten into unrelated legislation.
I’m not sure why the word “discrimination” was used in the title of that bill, and I’m not sure who named it. But it seems somewhat insensitive given the recent furor over House Bill 2. That wasn’t lost on Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat and the longest-serving member of the legislature.
“You can’t discriminate against a motorcycle but you can discriminate against a human being?” Michaux asked during a committee hearing on the bill.
Michaux also sarcastically questioned whether motorcyclists would have to produce birth certificates to park, referring to House Bill 2’s requirement that transgender people use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificates.
Then there’s the motorcycle part. Remember back in 2013, when Republicans inserted language restricting abortions into a bill about motorcycle safety? That bill, originally called the “Motorcycle Safety Act,” would have simply increased penalties for car drivers who cut motorcyclists off on the road. But when language imposing further restrictions on abortions was added suddenly and with little or no warning, it became one of the most divisive pieces of legislation this decade. And it quickly was dubbed on Jones Street the “motorcycle abortion bill” or the “motorcycle vagina bill.”
I have no idea what will come of Torbett’s “motorcyclist discrimination” measure, House Bill 1050. Perhaps it’ll pass as is, saving those bikers from further parking segregation.
Or maybe – in this all-important election year – it has a much more important future ahead of it. Will the General Assembly use it as a vehicle to make changes to House Bill 2? Will it become “motorcycle abortion bill 2”? Or do General Assembly Republicans have something else in mind for it?
My guess is one of the latter. I could be wrong, but I’m going to keep my eye on it anyway.
Patrick Gannon is the editor of The Insider State Government News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.