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Capitol Letters: Bipartisanship still exists. This bill is one example

"In this time of hyper-partisanship, HB21-1139 makes a good parable about participatory democracy. It is a matter that can be discussed by a diverse group civilly, and on which people can question each other without rancor and even change their minds. It’s a good reminder that we don’t have all the answers."
Capitol Letters Photo
Photo by Marcia Martin

At the last meeting of the Senior Citizens’ Advisory Board, Senior Services Manager Michele Waite asked the board to consider a bill being introduced in the General Assembly that would, if passed, have a major impact on older adults. HB21-1139 would relax requirements on older adults to prove their continued ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

An advisory board may vote to send a recommendation to city council to support or oppose a bill before the state Legislature. Assistant City Manager Sandi Seader solicits opinions on bills from our advisory boards on matters within their areas of expertise, as well as from members of the city staff and directly from members of the council. 

Titled Driver's License Electronic Renewal By Seniors, HB 1139 would postpone until age 80 the date at which seniors are no longer allowed to renew their driver’s license electronically or by mail, and does not require a new eye examination as frequently. At present, mail and electronic renewals end at age 65. This is a bipartisan bill: its House sponsor, Julie McClusky, is a Democrat, and its Senate sponsor, Bob Rankin, is a Republican. Both legislators represent rural areas where it is likely to be a long journey for anyone to visit a motor vehicle office. It’s likely physical hardship on older adults was the main motivation for the bill.

The members of the Senior Citizens Advisory Board moved quickly to support this bill. While all of them are older adults, all of them are civically engaged and energetic people. They were eager to simplify the administrative inconvenience of renewing their licenses.

Before the vote, I suggested some soul searching was in order. While HB21-1139 makes things easier for adults ages 66 to 80 by saving them trips and requiring less frequent eye examinations, there’s another side to consider. Relaxing these requirements relaxes protections that ensure older adults are physically able to safely operate a vehicle. While getting to the DMV is harder in rural Colorado, it also is true the risks of driving are higher on icy mountain switchbacks and windswept prairie two-lane highways. Emergency services are farther away. An older adult myself, I honestly don’t know what’s right. 

My father lost the right to a driver’s license at 82, when he began taking the antiepileptic drug Dilantin. He lived another decade dependent on family for transportation. We should have taken his car keys at least three years before his physician did so. During his last years of driving, he smashed my car door, his garage door and had several near-misses. I thought of Dad when I asked the advisory board to think twice. We had a great discussion about regulation versus protection, and also about other ways the board could impact the bill, such as suggesting amendments to the sponsors or to our local representatives. They never did take a vote.

In this time of hyper-partisanship, HB 1139 makes a good parable about participatory democracy. It is a matter that can be discussed by a diverse group civilly, and on which people can question each other without rancor and even change their minds. It’s a good reminder that we don’t have all the answers. Do we reduce accidents by removing a requirement for older drivers to make a trip, possibly in bad weather, to get their vision tested and renew their licenses in person? Or do we increase accidents by leaving people on the road who probably shouldn’t be driving? It’s a delicate question that goes right to the heart of so many social issues. I still don’t know what my vote would be — and that’s an important and humbling lesson, too.

Get involved

HB 1139 isn’t scheduled yet. It will be discussed first in the House Transportation and Local Government Committee. Do you have a strong opinion? A story to share about why grandpa needs to renew online — or why he should have to renew in person? Watch for this bill and become a resident lobbyist yourself.

In ordinary times, anyone can go to the Capitol and watch the Legislature work and debate. Anyone may speak their mind on a bill being heard in committee. This year, that’s not possible, of course. But the Legislature has made provisions for remote participation.

The House, Senate and committees are available by streaming video online here: http://leg.colorado.gov/watch-listen. Here are the instructions on how to sign up for remote testimony.

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Editor's note: The Longmont Leader accepts contributions, photos, and op-eds for publication from community members, business leaders and public officials on local topics. Publication will be at the discretion of the editor and published opinions do not represent the views of The Longmont Leader or its staff. To submit a contribution, email info@longmontleader.com.



Marcia Martin

About the Author: Marcia Martin

Old geek woman, current sitting on Longmont City Council. Saving the planet on weekends. My words, and my errors, are my own and don’t necessarily represent the opinion or policy of the City of Longmont.
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