LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska may be on the verge of repealing its motorcycle helmet law after more than two decades of debates between lawmakers who see it as a matter of personal freedom and those who defend the mandate as a way to protect riders.
Senators kicked off their annual debate Monday on legislation that would allow motorcyclists to ride through the state without a helmet.
But unlike past years when repeal efforts have failed, the bill’s lead sponsor said he believes he has enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Lawmakers adjourned for the day without taking any action, but the first of three required votes is scheduled for Wednesday.
“I’m confident (the support) will hold,” said Sen. John Lowe, of Kearney.
If the repeal passes, Nebraska would become the 32nd state without a universal helmet requirement. Twenty-eight states require only some motorcyclists to wear helmets, and three others — Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire — have no helmet laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The latest version of the Nebraska bill would require motorcycle riders to use eye protection, but would eliminate the helmet mandate for riders who are at least 21 years old. Children who are younger than 6 years old would not be allowed to ride.
Senators who support the repeal measure came within one vote of overriding a filibuster last year, but fell short because one of their allies was absent from the Legislature. At least 33 votes are required to force an end to debate and bring the issue to a vote.
Lowe, who used to ride motorcycles, said he always wore a helmet on the roads but argued that the government shouldn’t dictate that decision.
“With me, it all starts with the freedom of people to choose for themselves,” he said.
Supporters argue that repealing the motorcycle helmet law could help generate additional tourism revenue from motorcyclists who might otherwise avoid Nebraska while heading to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
Gov. Pete Ricketts has not said whether he supports Nebraska’s helmet law. However, a 33-vote majority in the Legislature would be more than enough to override his veto.
Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete said safety advocates should focus on rider education instead of a helmet mandate. Ebke argued that tobacco usage has fallen nationally not because of a ban but because more smokers became aware of the risks.
“We have to start treating people like adults,” she said.
Supporters of the existing law voiced concerns that repealing the law would lead to more serious brain injuries and fatalities on Nebraska’s roads. Motorcyclists who ride without helmets are also less likely to have health insurance, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, who supports the existing helmet requirement, argued that riders who are seriously injured in accidents often end up using safety-net services paid for the by the state.
“The cost of those incidents fall on Medicaid, fall on state coffers,” Bolz said.