When renewed efforts to ban mopeds in Oak Bluffs ran into legal barriers last year, town officials thought they finally had a solution: file a home rule petition in the state legislature. With overwhelming support from Island residents and the backing of both Cape and Islands legislators, getting special legislation to exempt one town from one state law seemed like a slam dunk.

Not so fast.

Proponents of a moped ban learned this week that a petition filed last year by Sen. Julian Cyr had died in committee and a new petition, again co-sponsored by Senator Cyr and Rep. Dylan Fernandes, faces an uphill fight. “This is going to be a really hard bill to pass,” the state senator told Island residents who gathered for an open meeting with the two legislators in Vineyard Haven. Among other things, he said, there are concerns from other state legislators about setting a precedent.

Despite previous successes on the Island in asserting local control through this method, home rule petitions turn out to be a trickier proposition than some imagined.

A 2004 study of the home rule petition process by the Harvard Kennedy School found that scores of requests for what is known as “special legislation” are filed each year, and a fraction of them are successful, in part because they compete for time and attention with thousands of other pieces of legislation. Of more than 6,000 bills filed in this legislative session, about 100 are seeking a home rule exemption on behalf of one of the state’s 351 cities and towns.

Called “Dispelling the Myth of Home Rule,” the report argues that the state sharply limits the areas where towns can exercise autonomy and that the home rule process discourages regionalism in favor of parochialism. In the case of home rule petitions, legislators are often unwilling to go out on a limb when there is more than one view on an issue.

“Controversial ordinances and bylaws, such as affordable housing initiatives and employment law modifications, often attract strong challenges,” the report said in part.

In recent years, the Island has had an excellent track record in getting special legislation approved. Tisbury and Aquinnah used the home rule petition method to convert from wet to dry towns. Chilmark successfully gained the ability to govern pesticide use around Squibnocket Pond about five years ago using a home rule petition.

A more recent petition that would allow some Cape and Vineyard towns to enact their own bylaws to regulate pesticide use has seen strong support, although the bill is still making its way through the state legislature.

One factor in many successful petitions cited by the Harvard study is strong support from the sponsors and vocal and sustained community advocacy, even after a bill is filed.

“The locality often needs to assume the role of active lobbyist in order to encourage the state to consider the petition and to combat opposition that may arise. This practice of post-petition lobbying by municipalities has become such a common tradition that, according to local officials we spoke with, many state officials will assume that the locality does not truly support a petition if it is not constantly followed up,” the report said.

Senator Cyr was recently named assistant majority whip, and as the only sophomore legislator in senate leadership, should now be in a position to help move the moped bill along. Town leaders in Oak Bluffs and others who care about the moped ban would do well to urge him on and ask how they can support his efforts. In referring to concerns about precedent, he suggested there may be special interests on Beacon Hill fighting the ban to prevent the Island’s outrage over moped safety from spreading to other communities. These interest groups need to be exposed and confronted.

It’s a cautionary tale for the campaign currently under way on the Island to establish a housing bank through a home rule petition initiative. The housing bank campaign is already off to a rocky start, with selectmen in the three down-Island towns voicing their strong objection to the idea of co-opting revenues from the new short-term rental tax to fund a housing bank.

Even if voters in the six Island towns endorse the plan in the spring, the road to legislative approval — as the moped petition has shown — will be a hard climb.