POLITICS
07/13/2013 06:52 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

North Carolina Abortion Debate Pushes Aside Motorcycle Safety Concerns

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WASHINGTON -- When the North Carolina state Senate unanimously passed SB 353 on April 8, it was a good day for motorcycle safety advocates. The bill would increase penalties for violating a motorcyclist's lane, forcing the driver to go off the road or change lanes. And it looked like an easy ride to becoming law.

But on Wednesday, state House Republicans took SB 353 and attached anti-abortion provisions, turning the legislation into one of the most controversial bills this session.

On Thursday, the measure passed the state House in a far-from-unanimous 74-41 vote. Every Democrat voted against it and all but one Republican voted for it.

"You never want to see that happen to your bill, obviously, but it does happen," said Paul Wilms, a former lobbyist in the state and a current member of the Concerned Bikers Association of North Carolina (CBA).

The legislation still seems headed for passage, however. It now goes back to the Senate, which, in addition to embracing the motorcycle safety provisions, had earlier voted for a similar anti-abortion measure. On Friday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.

CBA Legislative Director Doc Ski helped write SB 353's original language. He said he wasn't that upset that the abortion provisions were attached, especially since the legislation will likely still go forward.

"I didn't really mind at all," he said. "If for some reason it wasn't going to get approved or didn't get forwarded ... the bill will still be in the House, and it will still be alive. We can just remove that language, and our sponsor can just reintroduce the bill."

Ski noted, however, that his group would not weigh in on the rest of the revised SB 353, which has a title that now contains 123 words on abortion and just 17 related to motorcycles.

"I know abortion is a very controversial subject, and CBA recognizes that abortion is not a motorcycle rights issue, so we have no position on abortion," he added. "Some of our members approve of the language of the abortion restrictions, and some of our members disapprove of the abortion restrictions. But that's not an issue we have a position on as an organization."

John Baucum, president of the motorcycle club Riders in Recovery, was less content with what House Republicans did.

"I am personally disappointed that it [motorcycle safety] is getting 'lost' by being co-opted into an incendiary piece of legislation that is totally unrelated to motorcycle safety," he said.

Wilms, the former lobbyist, argued that what Republicans did -- taking a noncontroversial bill that has already passed one chamber and attaching unrelated provisions -- is not that unusual in the North Carolina General Assembly. The maneuver makes it easier to move new legislation, especially late in a session. In fact, quite often, the original language is completely taken out.

"It says something about the credibility that [Ski] has established in the General Assembly for his organization -- the Concerned Bikers Association -- over the years, and the respect they have for him and what he was trying to do with that bill, that they kept those provisions in there," said Wilms.

Democrats on the state's House Judiciary Committee argued that what was unprecedented about this piece of legislation was that Republicans added the anti-abortion language without first notifying either the public or Democratic lawmakers so that they had time to study the changes.

At least one member who would have voted for SB 353 was unable to do so because of the new abortion provisions.

"I ride a motorcycle," said Rep. Beverly Earle (D), who spoke out against the bill in a floor speech on Thursday. "And I want to let my motorcycle buddies know that when I vote against this, it's not because I'm not concerned about their safety on the highways."

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