Polis: Crossing the finish line (column)
After three years of trying, finally, it became law! All newly manufactured helicopters are now required to be equipped with safer fuel systems. The amendment I co-authored with Rep. Ed Perlmutter passed the House of Representatives, Senate and was signed by the president in early October. Here’s the story of how we got it across the finish line.
First: We believed it was possible. It’s easy to get weighted down in Washington dysfunction. After all, Congress passes less than 5 percent of bills into law. We saw that 5 percent as an opportunity, not an excuse.
Second: We listened. After the fateful Flight For Life helicopter crash in Frisco that eventually led to the bill, we went to the community, and we heard from everyone from Flight For Life to the widow of the helicopter pilot, Karen Mahany. She wanted to ensure that nobody else would ever have to go through what she went through in losing her husband, Patrick Mahany, or what the other crash victims, Dave Repsher and Matt Bowe, and their families went through. We wanted the same.
Third: We developed a clear objective. We learned that after the Frisco crash there was a post-crash fire, which could have been avoided if only there was a safer fuel system onboard, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. This fact, coupled with the statistics that since 2015 there have been more than 170 post-crash helicopter fires, we knew what needed to be done.
Fourth: We sought input. We collaborated with helicopter manufacturers to determine what could be done to prevent other post-crash fires. We talked with programs like Flight For Life to determine the feasibility of transitioning over to helicopters with safer fuel systems. And we informed the community of the problem with help from a Colorado journalist, Chris Vanderveen. Everyone came together, and everyone wanted to get the problem fixed.
Fifth: We drafted the bill. This was the easy part, especially since I had teammates in Rep. Perlmutter and Sen. Michael Bennet, truly formidable legislators. Given our clear and defined objective, the bill was only three pages long.
Sixth: We tried and tried again. Getting a bill through Congress requires patience, tenacity, perseverance and working with our Republican colleagues across the aisle. We pleaded with Congressional leadership to bring it up for a vote, and when they refused, we sought other ways. We held events to raise awareness, we spoke out about the problem in the press, we sent newsletters and we added the bill on as an amendment to other bills several times.
Seventh: Finally, we witnessed and enjoyed the passage! It passed as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, a larger bill that governs all aviation policy.
Eighth: We must move forward! We were able to effect change with newly manufactured helicopters, now we have to tackle existing helicopters. That’s why we have introduced the Safe Helicopters Now Act. The bill provides helicopter manufacturers with a tax credit for retrofitting existing emergency helicopters with safer fuel systems. We’ve also introduced a bipartisan resolution to commemorate Patrick Mahany, by renaming the Frisco post office the Patrick E. Mahany Jr. Post Office. Because we must always remember the “why” for all our actions. We’re so proud of the community for coming together after the tragedy and turning it into a triumph.
Congressman Jared Polis serves the Second Congressional District, which includes Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Eagle, Gilpin, Grand, Jefferson, Larimer, Summit and Park counties.
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