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Still no vote on motorcycle helmet repeal

February 10, 2010

Still no vote on motorcycle helmet repeal

The Legislature took the motorcycle helmet law for another spin around the block on Wednesday.

After a two-hour ride, senators were back where they started with no first-round decision on whether they’ll try to repeal Nebraska’s law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

Pending is an effort by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont to amend his bill to require riders 21 or older who do not wear helmets to have at least $1 million in medical reimbursement coverage. Riders younger than 21 still would be required to wear helmets.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, an opponent of the bill, said Janssen’s new language provides no penalty for lack of insurance and, in fact, makes it easy for riders younger than 21 to ride without helmets since they would be stopped by law enforcement officers only if they violated another law.

Lack of a helmet would be treated as a secondary offense in the same manner as failure to wear seat belts is not subject to penalty unless a driver is stopped for some other offense.

Janssen’s effort to amend his bill to meet concerns expressed by opponents is simply window-dressing, Lathrop said.

During floor debate Wednesday, supporters of the repeal proposal framed their arguments in terms of personal freedom.

Now, state law “says to cyclists that we choose to step on your freedom,” Janssen said, when it should be a rider’s decision whether to wear a helmet.

“It isn’t our job to try to run every step of somebody’s life,” said Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial.

“Whose rights do we trample on next?” asked Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha.

Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing said the issue involves personal responsibility as well as personal freedom.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said 16 of the 19 motorcyclists who died on Nebraska roads in 2008 were not wearing helmets.

“For the sake of saving lives, we need to not repeal this law,” she said.

Lathrop suggested Janssen’s revised package acknowledges motorcycle-riding is “a high-risk activity” by mandating eye protection for riders, but is inconsistent in not mandating protective helmets.

The million-dollar insurance provision does not take into account the costs of long-term care, shifting the burden to taxpayers through Medicaid coverage, he said.

“Rehab and long-term care is on us,” Lathrop said.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7250 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

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