In my previous post I wrote about the fate of the “following too closely” bill (HB 82) and the email that I sent to the senators on the transportation committee who voted to kill it. Mostly those emails did not elicit any response, but Senator McWaters (R – Virginia Beach) replied to say that he had, in fact, voted in favor or HB 82. Looking more closely at HB 82’s history, it seems that it was voted on by the transportation committee twice.
The explanation for this double vote comes from this post by PolitiFact: after the first defeat of the bill on Feb 19th, Senator Alexander (D – Norfolk) proposed a change to the text to remove “reasonable and prudent” and replace it with an exact measurement. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, an appropriate following distance should be based on speed; an exact measurement would apply to all circumstances regardless of speed and wold likely satisfy no one. Second, just look at all the trouble that passing a change to the 2-foot passing law required: five years of work by the Virginia Bicycling Federation! Imagine trying to update a new “following too closely” regulation if the distance chosen by the committee was found to be too short.
With this more complete understanding of what happened to HB 82 in the senate committee, it becomes apparent that the first vote on Feb 19th was the critical vote that killed the bill. The second vote on Feb 26th was over the bill with Sen. Alexander’s modifications. So finally then, here is the bad-guy list of those senators who voted to kill HB 82 on Feb 19th: Deeds (Committee Chair), Marsh, Newman, Watkins, Puckett, Smith, Miller, Carrico, and Alexander. (As before, their official email addresses can be found here.) All of these senators voted to kill a bill that served only to protect vulnerable road users. Furthermore, if Delegate Comstock’s claim is true that senate Democrats voted against her bill out of spite, then Senators Deeds, Marsh, Miller, Puckett, and Alexander are deserving of special reprobation for playing political games with cyclists’ legal protections.
Closing notes: I would like to thank Senator McWaters and his staff for their time corresponding about this issue and would like to note that Sen. McWaters voted for HB 82 on Feb 19th, and also was one of three co-patrons for SB 97, the 3-foot passing bill that is currently on its way to the Governor’s desk.