Charles Umbenhauer

"It was never about the helmet, it was about choice."
—Charles Umbenhauer

Charles Umbenhauer

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politics—BIKER STYLE
Between the Lines July 2018 issue

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State Capitol, June 4, 2018 – Just like the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, the bikers returned to the state capitol for their annual Motorcyclists Rights Rally.  This year was no different than years in the past when it came to the weather.  It rained through most of Freedom Weekend but we were relatively dry on Rally day. 

172 motorcycles led by the God Bless America Motorcycle Color Guard rode in from the campground to Commonwealth Avenue behind the state capitol building.  The riders were joined in the rotunda by several hundred other bikers who had already gathered in support of the rally.  Here is a short recap of the event.

The opening remarks and welcome were delivered by ABATE’s longtime lobbyist, Charles Umbenhauer.  Charles thanked Governor Wolf for proclaiming May as Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month in the Commonwealth and Senator John Rafferty for doing the same in the Senate along with Representative Harry Readshaw who did a proclamation in the House.  In part, this year’s rally was in celebration of 15 years of freedom of choice in the use of helmets since Governor Rendell signed HB 259 on July 6, 2003.  Charles stated, “The first time I rallied here was 38 years ago, I was 35 years old.  Let me save you the trouble of doing the math that means today I am 73.  In wrapping up his remarks he read in part a letter he had written on May 16 to the Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards.  The letter stated that we have many concerns about the PA Motorcycle Safety Program.  He pointed out that the previous contractor Cape Fox Professionals had successfully ran the program into the ground.  In their final year of operation in 2017 they trained only 13,000 students.  The previous contractor, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation consistently trained an average of 25,000 students a year.  Prior to Cape Fox for 15 years PA had an award winning program under the direction of Dave Surgenor as the state coordinator.  Dave was at the rally and was acknowledged by Charles who also reported that Dave was an 11 year member of ABATE and the 2013 recipient of the Ed Fruecht Jr Lifetime Achievement Award, the most prestigious award presented to a deserving individual yearly. 

The ABATE office is again receiving complaints and questions regarding people being able to sign up for the safety courses and why so few classes are available.  He asked Madam Chairman for a personal meeting to discuss the safety program and what steps were being taken to see that the new contractor, Total Control is now living up to the contract which calls for damages for not meeting the agreed upon standards. 

Charles introduced Dave Evans, state coordinator of ABATE of PA who in turn introduced Michael Sayre, AMA Government Affairs Manager who presented ABATE member and past state coordinator Steve Zurl with the AMA’s Road Rider of the Year award.  This is a great honor and Steve was also recognized with a Distinguished Service Award from ABATE of PA.  Representative John Lawrence who happens to be Steve’s neighbor made that presentation along with a proclamation from the House of Representatives thanking Steve for all his work on motorcycling issues over the years. 

Next we moved onto the Senator Clarence Bell Scholarship.  This year’s award went to Samantha McCully of the Lancaster County Chapter.  Presentation was made by Senator Mike Folmer.  The scholarship was for $1000 which Samantha will use to further her education at the Harrisburg Area Community College. 

ABATE’s state legislative coordinator John Kruger set the stage for the Senator’s and House Members who were present to have the opportunity to participate in what we call our “Circle of Friends.”  Each legislator had the opportunity to come to the podium and introduce themselves and make a brief comment.  Many of them proudly announced that they were members of various chapters of ABATE of PA.  We do not have a head count but it was a record breaker for sure with dozens of Senators and House Members taking part in this relatively new tradition. 

We finally arrived at where we listened to the invited speakers.  The speakers and their subjects of ABATE legislation, which have all passed the House of Representatives and are awaiting action by the Senate. 

Dean Hooper of the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club spoke about HB 831 which deals with motorcycle processions.  That was followed by Representative Mark Keller who is the prime sponsor of HB 831.

Representative Pam Snyder spoke about HB 74 which would include motorcycles in the PA Automobile Lemon Law.  That bill passed the House and is in the Senate Consumer Affairs Committee awaiting a vote.

Representative Jim Marshall spoke about HB 1239 which will increase penalties against motorcyclists who do not have the proper endorsement on their license. 

The last speaker of the day was Representative Harry Readshaw who spoke passionately about his Gettysburg Project to restore PA monuments on the battlefield at Gettysburg and the Daniel Lady Farm.  He thanked ABATE for 17 years of participation in his annual Ride to Gettysburg which to date has raised $187,278.38.  September 22 will be the 18th annual ride and we hope to meet a goal of surpassing the $200,000 mark.  We only need to raise a little more than $13,000 to meet that goal. 

At the conclusion of the rally $12,000 was donated from various contributors to BikePAC the bikers political action committee. 

A job well done and another great rally and our thanks to those hearty dedicated individuals who year after year  support us by showing up at our state capitol and lobbying for the continued success of motorcyclist rights in PA.