The riders of the noisiest vehicles on the highway are trying to make their voices just as loud in the halls of the Texas Capitol.
On Monday, around 200 motorcycle enthusiasts from around the state descended on Austin for Texas Biker Legislative Day, pushing a number of priorities for the ongoing session of the Texas Legislature. The crowd of vest-wearing activists listened to a number of speakers on the Capitol steps before heading inside to lobby against a bill that would require motorcyclists to wear helmets and to call for legislation to prevent police profiling of motorcyclists.
“I ride, and I care deeply about you independence and your ability to ride,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told the crowd. “So, here’s my pledge to you: You may not live in SD 14 … but I’m your senator.”
Watson was followed by Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, who is a member of the Calaveras motorcycle club, and a number of politically inclined motorcycle riders.
“When we have somebody who shares our passions in the Senate and the House, it makes it a lot easier for us to be heard,” said Lora Dame, chairwoman of the Austin Region 1 chapter of the Confederation of Clubs and Independents. “We’re mixtures of Republicans, Democrats, we’re a mixture of everything.”
One of the main targets of the rally was House Bill 748 by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas. The bill would amend the Texas Transportation Code to make it a misdemeanor offense to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
Neave said she sees the arguments against a law requiring helmets as similar to the arguments against seatbelt laws.
“At one point there was a lot of resistance to wearing a seatbelt,” Neave said. “We’re open to working with whoever … but our utmost priority is saving lives.”
Sen. Watson said he did not support Neave’s bill and he considers helmet-wearing an “adult decision” that motorcyclists have the right to make.
The fallout from the Twin Peaks shooting in Waco, when nine motorcycle club members were killed during a shootout between rival clubs in 2015, was also considered by the attendees. Following the shooting, nearly 200 motorcycle club members were arrested in connection with the shooting, despite a smaller number actually being involved in the violence. Since the incident, motorcycle club members have been lobbying to prevent profiling of cyclists by police in Texas.
“I’m not a bad person just because I ride,” Dame said. “I’m a regular person, just like everyone else, but I just choose to wear a patch.”
Inside the Capitol, motorcyclists hoped to show legislators that they are a constituency that can’t be ignored.
“(The legislators) listen, and at least they know that there are people involved,” said Tony Mistretta, a member of the Sons of Liberty Riders and an engineer from Houston. “I think that’s the whole point. We let them know that there are people involved and that there is people that want things a certain way. We all vote, and our votes all count.”