Senators discuss helmet law repeal

Lawmakers debated a bill March 19 and 20 that would abolish Nebraska’s motorcycle helmet law.

Introduced by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield, LB31 would repeal the law that requires motorcycle and moped operators and passengers to wear a helmet.

Bloomfield said Nebraska’s 97,000 motorcyclists should have the freedom to make their own decisions about their personal safety.

“This is an infringement of individual rights and we should do away with it,” Bloomfield said.

Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher supported the bill, saying that life is full of risks that may cause injury. Without risk, he said, humanity would cease to advance.

“Our societies arise out of the acceptance of risk and the freedom to pursue it,” Schumacher said.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist also supported the bill, saying the state’s concern about the risks of motorcycle riding should not outweigh people’s right to choose how to protect themselves.

“I’ve heard the arguments from all sides,” Krist said. “This is a personal right. The freedom of choice should apply here as it does in other places.”

O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson estimated that western and central Nebraska businesses lose at least $4 million in tax revenue annually from riders who avoid the state on their way to the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D.

“We are missing out on millions of dollars that are circumventing this state,” Larson said. “That is true economic development that we are ignoring.”

Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann offered a motion March 19 to bracket the bill, or postpone further debate on it for the rest of the session. The motion failed 21-19.

“It is important that we keep this helmet law in place,” Hilkemann said. “Show me the data that it does not save lives to have a helmet on—you cannot find it.”

Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor also opposed the bill, saying studies show unhelmeted motorcycle riders are three times more likely to suffer a brain injury in a crash than those wearing a helmet. Helmet laws make sense, he said, because helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal head injuries to motorcyclists.

“All states that have repealed or revoked helmet laws have reported an increase in motorcycle fatality rates,” Gloor said.

Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar said that being struck by a car years ago while riding a motorcycle proved to him the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets.

“I believe that helmet saved my life,” he said, opposing the bill.

In her opposition to the bill, Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said that the medical costs to treat severe brain injuries can be more than $3 million over a patient’s lifetime. Expenses not covered by insurance are passed on to taxpayers, she said.

“I cannot stand behind a change that will cost the state so much,” Bolz said. “Not only in dollars and cents, but in quality of life.”

A pending Judiciary Committee amendment would make the bill apply only to operators and passengers under 21 years old. The amendment also would require all motorcyclists to use eye protection such as goggles, a windshield or a face shield attached to a helmet.

An amendment to the committee amendment brought by Lincoln Sen. Roy Baker would have permitted the operation of motorcycles without helmets by parade participants riding up to 30 miles per hour who are at least 21 years old. The amendment failed 6-21.

The Legislature adjourned for the day before taking further action on the bill. Debate on the issue will resume March 23. Several amendments are pending.

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