Bill to repeal helmet law stalls

A bill that would repeal Nebraska’s motorcycle helmet law stalled on general file Feb. 11 after several days of debate.

LB393, introduced by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield, would give motorcycle riders 21 years old and older the option to not wear a protective helmet. Riders under 21 still would be required to wear a helmet. The bill also would require motorcycle riders to use eye protection such as goggles, a windshield or a face shield attached to a helmet.

A pending Transportation and Telecommunications Committee amendment also would have prohibited motorcyclists from carrying passengers less than 48 inches tall unless the passenger is at least 16 years old.

Bloomfield said the bill would give Nebraska’s 92,000 motorcyclists the freedom to choose when it comes to wearing helmets.

“We as a state and as lawmakers in the state have a duty and an obligation to protect and not infringe on the principles of liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop opposed the bill, saying traumatic brain injuries suffered in motorcycle accidents are particularly devastating to the people left to care for the victims.

“I cannot tell you the horrors we will unleash on so many families if this bill passes,” he said.

Approximately 525 motorcycle accidents occur annually in Nebraska, Lathrop said, and the motorcyclists are rarely at fault. No rider plans to be in an accident, he said.

“If he did, he’d wear a helmet,” Lathrop said. “He would put every protective device on imaginable to protect himself if he knew he was going to be in a wreck.”

“Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents,” said Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, citing national Department of Transportation statistics. Speaking in opposition to LB393, Avery said that helmetless motorcyclists are 40 percent more likely to die in an accident.

Because insurance often does not cover long-term medical care, Avery said, motorcycle accidents cost Nebraska taxpayers nearly $50 million in medical expenses in 2011.

“If you consider yourself a fiscal conservative, how can you vote to repeal the helmet law?” he asked.

Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek spoke in favor of the bill.

“This bill is about personal choice, personal freedom. If someone wants to ride and splatter their head on the cement, they can,” he said.

Karpisek said government should stop telling people what to do.

“There’s all sorts of other things that people do that get themselves in a bad state of health—but we let them do it,” he said.

On the second day of debate, Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor offered a motion to bracket LB393 until April 17, saying continued debate likely would not sway the vote. The motion failed on a 23-23 vote.

After eight hours of debate spanning four days, Bloomfield filed a motion to invoke cloture, which would cease debate and force a vote on the bill. The motion failed on a 25-22 vote, as 33 votes were needed.

A failed cloture motion results in debate on a bill ceasing for the day. LB393 remains on general file but is unlikely to be debated again this session.

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