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Senate green-lights partial motorcycle helmet law repeal despite minor roadblocks on the floor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Legislation that contains a partial repeal of motorcycle helmet laws passed the Senate Thursday afternoon despite vocal opposition from a handful of bipartisan lawmakers.

Included in SB 147 — which at its core changed motor vehicle registration deadlines — is a provision that allows individuals over the age of 18 who have purchased special insurance to cover a potential accident be exempt from having to wear a helmet while operating the motorcycle. Multiple Democrats noted this wasn’t the first time similar legislation had been brought before the General Assembly, but it had been unsuccessful in the past.

State Sen. David Sater

After some floor discussion, Sen. David Sater’s bill was third read and passed in a 21-12 vote.

“I think rules and regulations that serve as protections are good laws put in place. We are going to increase deaths here in Missouri, and for a group that is pro-life, I think we should think hard about this,” Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat, said, pointing to the sweeping anti-abortion bill the upper chamber passed just hours earlier.

“That’s what part of what our job is — to put in protections to make sure people are safe. It is an irresponsible piece of legislation,” she said.

Sen. Kiki Curls, a Democrat, said she “hates” the provision and recalled witnessing a horrific accident when she was a child. A car and a motorcycle collided at an intersection, and the man, who was not wearing a helmet, was tossed into the air and landed on his head. She said she still remembers the pool of blood that formed in the road.

“My experience with motorcycles without helmets is terrible,” she said. “I hate that we’re at a point when we’re considering this.”

Republican Sen. Bill White voted against the bill because of “fiscal responsibility,” citing Medicaid recipients who might suffer a traumatic brain injury as a result of an accident sans helmet and would rack up expensive healthcare costs.

“Where your freedom stops is when it comes to my pocketbook,” he said.

But Sen. Jason Holsman, a Democrat who owns a motorcycle, made the case for individuals to make his or her own choice when it comes to wearing a helmet — even though he and his family will always wear one. He questioned the difference between a motorcycle rider wearing a helmet and passengers in a convertible car.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety group has encouraged lawmakers to maintain helmet laws in Missouri. Cathy Chase, the group’s president, pointed to statistics showing an increase in fatalities from crashes without helmets as well as trauma patients hospitalized with a head injury after Michigan weakened its helmet laws in 2012.

“Those who support helmet repeals argue, ‘Let those who ride decide.’ We respond by asserting that this decision impacts everyone, and ‘Let those who pay have a say,’” Chase said in a statement. “All-rider motorcycle helmet laws save lives, reduce injuries, and protect the wallets of all taxpayers.”

Additionally, the bill increases processing fees collected by motor vehicle license offices; establishes an annual fee for businesses that rent or lease cars, trailers, or boats; and authorizes the establishment of a digit driver’s license program.