By Max Durbin, F76454
Chairman, Legislative Advisory Committee
Recently I read a message from an FMCA member who assumed that the Legislative Advisory Committee was part of the paid staff of FMCA. This individual thought that all a member had to do to get legal advice was to alert the appropriate “staff official” to a need. The fact is, this committee, and all of the standing committees of FMCA, is composed of volunteers from among the general membership. We do our work as time permits, or in response to a scheduled meeting. Obviously, no committee member receives compensation for his or her services.
I can understand how the confusion could occur. After all, FMCA is in a constant state of change, with new policies being created to deal with growth, changes in the membership, and a steady influx of new members. In fact, changes have happened so rapidly that sometimes it’s really hard to keep up and make the necessary mental adjustments. The makeup and activities of this committee are among the changes that have occurred. Four years ago, the committee had only a few members, and its workload was minimal. Today that is no longer the case.
Many years ago, local governments began to control the parking of recreation vehicles on private residential lots. The problem became so acute that a number of FMCA members took up a collection to pay for legal intervention. However, before this could happen, it was determined that certain limitations imposed upon the association by federal law and by FMCA’s Bylaws precluded FMCA from participating in government lobbying. So, the Legislative Advisory Committee was formed and charged with the responsibility of advising the general membership of how best to cope with parking rights problems. A parking rights manual called the “Legislative Advisory Handbook” was created for members who needed some advice as to how best to deal with local lawmaking groups. The Legislative Advisory Committee also provided educational seminars at conventions from time to time, besides giving advice upon request.
Former FMCA national president Charlie Atkinson, L10327, expanded the Legislative Advisory Committee when he was elected, and charged the committee members with broadening their ability to help FMCA. In addition to assisting people with local parking problems, we were asked to determine what other ways FMCA members’ RV lifestyle was being threatened. At that time, concerns included the following: “What if your state is contemplating a law that restricts overnight parking at places such as Wal-Mart?” “What if your town or community association bans parking of RVs on private property (your residence)?” “What if your state decides to increase personal-property or ad valorem taxes on your RV?” “What would happen if you drove a wide-body motorhome in a state with 8-foot width restrictions?” “What about states with vehicle length or weight limitations?” The list seems endless.
Before much could be done about these problems, the FMCA Governing Board had to adjust the FMCA Bylaws to permit lobbying; this change was voted in at the Ames, Iowa, convention in 1999. This change was made possible because we had learned that the federal laws restricting lobbying by nonprofit organizations had been eased somewhat. It soon became evident that substantial work needed to be done with state and national issues. In the meantime, calls from members with parking rights problems increased. To attempt to give committee members some relief, the Legislative Advisory Committee was expanded about 18 months ago by the addition of two more members. One other change that is being suggested in the proposed FMCA Bylaws is that the name of the committee be Government and Legislative Affairs, to better reflect the activities of the committee.
FMCA president Jeff Jefcoat, F118344, has chosen committee members who come from a cross-section of locations within the United States and have backgrounds and experience that will be of assistance. Members of the current committee come from Maine, Florida, Texas, Wyoming, and California. Their experience includes work in municipal or state government. Tasks are divided within the committee so as to minimize the load on any one member. At this point, the organization of the committee is fine-tuned.
We have accomplished quite a bit. We asked the FMCA office staff to prepare the chart of “Motorhome Regulations,” which was first published in the April 2001 issue of FMC magazine and was updated in the January 2002 issue (page 82). Some members are experiencing problems with the quality of new motorhomes, and so a compilation of “lemon” laws throughout the United States has been made and will be available at the 2002 area rallies and international conventions.
Another achievement is the recently inaugurated parking rights volunteers from around the United States, whose activities are intended to give advice and encouragement to members in their area who have a motorhome parking rights problem. These volunteers have been provided training or have been furnished with written training material so as to better prepare them as advisers, if they should be called upon to assist a fellow FMCA member.
The Legislative Advisory Committee also provides educational seminars at area rallies, upon request, and at international conventions. The committee recently created a new educational program called “How a Bill Becomes Law,” which will be available in 2002. And, finally, the committee put in a good deal of work during the two-year struggle to obtain relief from California’s restrictive vehicular length laws; this culminated with the signing of AB 67 by Governor Gray Davis this past October (see accompanying sidebar titled “California’s New Motorhome Length Law” by committee member Don Tallman, F1956).
Legislative Advisory Committee members do their work under the auspices of FMCA. But their role and FMCA’s role is limited to giving members advice. FMCA does not place a volunteer in an area with the intention of doing whatever is necessary to successfully conclude a task. We can provide support, where possible, in alerting others in an area as to particular problems and guide them to the local contact person for more information. Also, we have published and are now distributing a lobbying manual that offers insight and help when lobbying a government body is required.
There have been other successful cases, such as the Granite State chapter’s efforts to reverse a restrictive New Hampshire law, and the campground owner in Pennsylvania, a commercial member of FMCA, who was assisted with a township zoning problem. There also have been some successes with parking rights problems, but not enough. Our goal is 100 percent satisfaction, and we are hopeful that our new program using volunteers will offer greater relief to FMCA members with parking rights issues.
In addition, we currently are assisting a consortium of RV owners in Wyoming who are trying to get a law passed that would correct an out-of-balance vehicular license fee system.
We’ve also heard from several members from Washington state who have expressed concern about fees and taxes in their state. It seems that several years ago, voters passed an initiative that eliminated excise taxes on motorhomes, among other things, and set a flat rate of $35 for the license plate fee. This same initiative required that no new taxes could be imposed without the consent of the voters. However, the Washington State Supreme Court declared that the initiative petition was flawed, because it contained two separate issues. Following that reversal, the legislature did continue to set aside excise taxes, but now the registration fees have escalated above the $35 rate contained in the initiative.
Furthermore, it seems that Washington’s governor is now calling for increases in fuel taxes, particularly diesel fuel, along with a weight-apportioned license tag fee. He also wants to see increased sales taxes on motor vehicles. We hope that an FMCA member who lives in Washington will come forward to offer leadership in organizing a campaign to reverse existing problems and suppress the changes proposed by the governor. The Legislative Advisory Committee can provide advice and support, but we cannot provide the local leadership, as none of us reside in Washington.
In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate one point: the job of our committee is advisory. We strive to obtain and provide the best possible advice to members who have problems with laws that affect the motorhome lifestyle. We are learning how to better serve fellow members, although we have limited resources, laws that restrict us (particularly those regarding political action committee status), and are a six-member standing committee whose members, besides providing time to FMCA, also have their own pursuits to follow. We are here to advise members who are prepared and willing to help themselves.
California’s New Motorhome Length Law
By Don Tallman, F1956 Committee Member
A new motorhome length limit law, AB 67, became effective in California on October 9, 2001. It permits motorhomes up to 45 feet long to travel on certain state roadways, providing the operator has the appropriate license.
For California residents, a Class B noncommercial license with a “house car” endorsement is required. To obtain this license, the driver is to submit medical information, pass a specialized written test, and demonstrate the ability to exercise ordinary and reasonable control in operating a “house car” more than 40 feet in length. The medical information is in the form of a health questionnaire that has to be completed and signed by a physician and updated every two years. The written exam has 20 questions, of which 17 must be correctly answered. All answers can be found in a handbook called “Recreational Vehicles and Trailers.” The handbook, the health questionnaire form (DL 546), and other information can be obtained from the California Department of Motor Vehicles Web site, www.dmv.ca.gov; by contacting a local California DMV office; or by calling (800) 777-0133 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.
The driving skills test includes straight-line backing, offset backing, and a road test. The backing test is to simulate backing a vehicle into a camping space. The driver must be able to drive backward 100 feet within a 12-foot-wide path of cones without hitting them, and back the vehicle from about a 90-degree angle into a 12-foot-wide simulated camping space without touching or crossing the boundary. The road tests, where possible, include left and right turns, intersections, curves, grades, city multilane streets, lane changes, and freeway driving. The license fee is $34, and the license is good for approximately five years.
Out-of-state residents may legally drive motorhomes more than 40 feet long on approved California roadways if they possess an out-of-state drivers license authorizing the operation of that vehicle.
Approved roadways include interstate routes and routes identified by the California Department of Transportation. To learn which roads are permissible and which ones are not for motorhomes between 40 feet and 45 feet in length, visit the Web site of the California Department of Transportation — www.dot.ca.gov — and click on Truck Services and then click on 45-Foot Buses & Motorhomes; or type in www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/trksnwim/motion/motion.htm. At the time of this writing, a written list of prohibited roads was available on the Web site, and the beginnings of an online map had been posted. A hard-copy map of these roads, called “Motorcoach and Motorhome Network Map,” was scheduled to be available by mid-February 2002 from the California Department of Transportation, Truck Size & Weigh-In Motion Branch; phone 916-654-5741. The price of the maps had not yet been determined at press time.
The new motorhome length law also provides for the California DMV to conduct regulation hearings. Since these regulations have the same force as the law itself, public hearings are required before they can become effective. FMCA will have a representative involved in this process. Also in the bill is a requirement for the California Highway Patrol commissioner to appoint a committee of 12 members to develop a public awareness and outreach campaign to educate manufacturers, sellers, and owners as to where the 40-foot-plus motorhomes may be legally operated in California. This is to include the development of a driver education video and a map of approved roadways. The CHP commissioner is also charged with submitting a report to the California legislature on the number of “over-length vehicle collisions” by February 1, 2003, and February 1, 2004. FMCA will have a representative on this committee.