Anti-Bike Crusade isn’t Funny

While a controversial bike fee was eventually removed from an invasive species bill, much of the damage was done

By Kellyn Brown

Montana State Senate President Scott Sales, a Republican from Bozeman, doesn’t like cyclists. He’s made that clear. During discussion last month over legislation that would establish safe distances between cars and riders — a bill that had already breezed through the House 62-37 — Sales essentially criticized everyone who has ever jumped on a bike.

“They’re some of the most self-centered, rude people navigating on the highways and county roads I’ve seen,” he said. “They won’t move over. You can’t honk at them. They think they own the highway.”

House Bill 267, introduced by Kalispell Republican Rep. Frank Garner (a former police chief who I assume knows a little more about road safety than Sales), failed in the Senate on a vote of 24-26.

Sales has convinced himself that cyclists are entitled freeloaders who don’t pay taxes to maintain roads and is apparently inflicted with a permanent case of road rage about it. “Quite frankly I don’t want more of them in the state because there’s already too many of them,” he said.

He may get his wish, especially if he continues his anti-bike crusade, which somehow infiltrated a bill to fund Montana’s fight against invasive species — a real problem in our neck of the woods.

Ever since mussel larvae were discovered last year in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs, the state has scrambled to come up with a plan to increase monitoring in an attempt to prevent them from spreading. The miniscule mussels cling to boats and other watercraft, can colonize rapidly and are impossible to fully eradicate. During discussion of Senate Bill 363, as amendments were discussed to fund the legislation, Sales proposed slapping a $25 fee on out-of-state bicycles.

Taxing cyclists to specifically pay for aquatic invasive species prevention is like taxing boaters to specifically pay for bark-beetle prevention. It makes no sense.

My guess is that Sales is doubling down after backlash he received from his opposition and testimony against HB267. When proposing the out-of-state bike fee, he said he had heard from cyclists, according to the Helena Independent Record, and believes they should have the “skin in the game” by forcing out-of-staters to purchase “nonresident invasive species” stickers.

What’s surprising, even to a few lawmakers, is 26 senators also thought this was a good proposal and passed the amendment.

“Why it went on, I have no idea,” Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, who opposed the amendment, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “People thought it was kind of funny. That may have contributed a little. I think it’s kind of ridiculous.”

The cycling and outdoor industry found the Legislature’s actions less funny. And while the controversial fee was eventually removed from the bill, much of the damage was done.

Outside magazine ran with the headline: “Montana Lawmaker to Out-of-Town Bikers: You’re an Invasive Species.”

Bike & Build, a nonprofit that leads bike tours across the country during which cyclists build low-income housing, told Bicycling Magazine it might skip Montana in coming years.

According to the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, bicycle tourism has an annual economic impact of $377 million. Apparently that doesn’t matter to a Legislature that thinks alienating cyclists is funny.

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