BNSF and UP have made a solid investment in lobbyists in Colorado and they’re getting their money’s worth.
In 2023, SMART-TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith put forward a solid railroad safety bill to the Legislature that your union wholeheartedly supported. Brother Smith has been SLD for 11 years now and knows how to do his job in the statehouse effectively for our members, getting two-person crew legislation successfully in 2019. His experience told him that the best ally he could have to carry the bill was Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno.
Colorado’s Legislature is only in session for 120 days every year. Accordingly, they have a limit on how many bills any state rep or senator can put forward. Smith getting SMART-TD’s Rail Safety Act sponsored by the Senate Majority Leader was a major win for us and for railroad safety as a whole. But then Moreno got less and less enthusiastic about pushing for our bill as the session went on.
Eventually his office told Smith that they thought our legislation was a perfect fit for a bipartisan select committee — the Transportation Legislation Review Committee (TLRC) — focused on transportation bills. Our union was glad to hear that because it is a bipartisan committee with members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate and when bills are selected for support from the committee, they have a history of being unstoppable in the following years legislative session.
It all sounded promising. But shortly after diverting the bill to this group, Sen. Moreno abruptly resigned and accepted a high-ranking position on the staff of Denver’s new mayor.
Last month, Smith and his legislative board were given their opportunity to present their argument as to why their Rail Safety Act was worthy of the TLRC’s support. At this meeting, they found out that they had about a 33 percent chance of successfully making it through a gauntlet while competing against 13 others bills to become one of five bills endorsed by the committee.
It turns out the mastermind who put our rail safety bill into this competition wasn’t Moreno. It was the BNSF lobbyist who gets $80,000/month from the railroad to pull slick maneuvers like this one and kill railroad safety projects. This discovery was the part in this “Scooby Doo”-style caper where Brother Smith pulled the mask of the bad guys, and it turned out to be the Railroads and their lobbyists.
The bills that SMART is now competing against include easy-to-get-behind items like child-seat safety, free public-transit passes for students and even state highway repairs. What BNSF, UP and their high-paid lobbyists have created a scenario where they don’t have to actively campaign against the value of a rail safety bill. That would create bad press for them and an obvious pressure point for SMART-TD and the rest of rail labor to call them out. Rather than lobbying against our bill, all they need to do is campaign FOR all the other bills. It is almost impossible to create bad press for themselves for supporting improvements to safety in children’s car seats! They just have to prop up five of the other 13 bills and never have to do the work of opposing SMART’s message on long trains, blocked crossings and the rest of the commons-sense protections we’ve been advancing.
On the positive side, Brother Smith has informed the international office that Colorado’s RSA has made it through the first hurdle of this competition. Fourteen bills that were presented in June were narrowed down to 10 finalists on Aug. 21st. Colorado’s rail safety bill is still standing.
The remaining 10 finalists will be cut to five winners and five losers October 3. We are asking for the support of all our members in the State of Colorado to reach out to the 20 members of the TLRC. Let them know that you are a Colorado voter and taxpayer who stands on the side of railroad safety.
Please follow the link provided to our Legislative Action Center to submit a prewritten comment to your legislators. They need to know that we are aware of what is going on and that we are keeping track of who supports our mission of rail safety and who does not.
In Colorado’s House District 47 alone, there are over 300 SMART-TD members. The representative in that district, Ty Winter, is on the TLRC. Representative Winter, when asked by SMART-TD for his support for the legislation responded in writing by saying that, “A major concern MY STAKEHOLDERS’ have with this bill is that it significantly cuts the train length; reducing the train length will substantially cut profits, burdening these companies.”
Colorado members, we absolutely need to remind Rep Winter who his “STAKEHOLDERS” are. We work, live and pay taxes in this state and in his district. WE are his stakeholders — not the carriers, not the railroad bosses like Katie Farmer and Jim Vena of the bloated owning class, and not the lobbyists who make more in a month than our new hires make in a year!