Friday, March 05, 2021

Galbraith: train wreck legislation demonstrates the need for public testimony

Train Wreck Legislation Demonstrates the Need for Public Testimony
By Brad Galbraith

Shutting out Oklahomans’ voices in the legislative process leads to uninformed public policy. A recent hearing of the House Transportation Committee serves as just one example of the testimony deficiency in Oklahoma’s legislative process.

The committee recently considered House Bill 1048, sponsored by Representative Kerbs, which requires private railroads to maintain at least “two crewmembers in the control compartment of the lead locomotive unit of a train.”

Limited to the knowledge and testimony of the bill’s sponsor and the Secretary of Transportation, the committee unanimously voted to approve a simple bill that it believed was an innocuous codification of current standards that would protect public safety indefinitely into the future.

Indeed, HB1048 is a straightforward bill that codifies current practice. However, in the short term, this bill is unnecessary. In the long term, it is an overly restrictive mandate that reduces operational flexibility, impedes future innovation, and drives up costs through legislatively disguised union featherbedding (mandating more employees than are truly needed).

First, the argument that HB 1048 will help promote public safety is unsupported. A few years ago, the Federal Railroad Administration withdrew a similar proposal because no data supported the premise that two-person crews were any safer than one-person crews. Additionally, railroads are implementing innovative technologies that reduce the largest contributor to railroad accidents—human error.   

Second, HB 1048 impedes increased efficiency through future innovation. In an era where the world is talking about driverless vehicles, committee members are locking in a standard that may soon be obsolete. Such innovation in the railroad industry could benefit consumers, businesses, and the environment by increasing operational efficiencies, driving down costs, and providing energy-efficient, relatively safe transportation. Indeed, the only apparent value to this measure is job security for union members after technology renders them unnecessary.

Unfortunately, none of this was considered by committee members, primarily because public testimony is not heard.

In my experience, Oklahoma is atypical in its refusal to hear public testimony. I have worked with and for legislatures in several states. In each, public input is an integral piece of the legislative process. 

It is unfair and unreasonable to expect state legislators to be experts for every bill that comes through their committees. Public testimony provides an opportunity for legislators to hear divergent viewpoints and expert considerations. Without it, the only voices that legislators typically hear are lobbyists hired by specific interest groups. 

For the sake of better public policy, the Oklahoma Legislature needs to open up committee hearings for public input. Many other states allow the people to have a voice in the legislative process. Does the state legislature value Oklahomans’ voices? Then it needs to let them be heard.

1 comment:

  1. Justin Cody CalvertMarch 6, 2021 at 7:57 AM

    “For the sake of better public policy, the Oklahoma Legislature needs to open up committee hearings for public input.” AMEN!
    I work in an industry where I have seen my company and others like it lobby for and get passed, legislation that only benefits those companies even at the direct expense of every Oklahoman.
    This MUST stop.


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