Most every year, someone at the Legislature introduces a bill to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement.
Members of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony Feb. 2 on this year’s proposal.
The current state law requires all motorcycle or moped riders to wear a protective helmet.
LB 581, introduced by Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, instead would give riders 21 and older the option to wear no helmet, although it would require them to complete a certified motorcycle safety course and wear eye protection while riding.
One of the most important things Nebraskans can gain from the bill, Hansen said, is the restoration of freedom that the government has removed from motorcyclists.
“This issue is more than a medical or economic issue,” he said. “There are more than 55,000 proud motorcyclists residing in Nebraska that have a rich culture and history that just want the option to choose whether or not to wear a helmet.”
Supporting the bill was Todd Miller, chairperson of ABATE of Nebraska. In written testimony, he said that repealing the helmet law would increase tourism spending in the state, including up to $4 million in revenue from people traveling to and from the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
“In these economic hard times, shouldn’t we consider passing favorable legislation to welcome those from states without mandatory helmet laws into our state to explore our scenic highways and small towns?” Miller said.
Former state senator Dave Bloomfield, who offered similar proposals during his time in the Legislature, spoke in support of LB 581. Freedom is a precious commodity, he said, which is nearly impossible to regain once it’s lost.
“The people who have lost this right are not a bunch of radicals,” Bloomfield said. “They are decent, hardworking, freedom-loving Americans who have been fighting within the system for over a quarter of a century, trying to regain a right that was taken from them.”
Brooke Murtaugh, brain injury program manager at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, opposed the bill.
Murtaugh said no one can understand the pain and suffering of traumatic brain injury survivors, including the long-term cognitive, mental, emotional and physical deficits.
“Anything we can do as Nebraskans to lessen the incidence and severity of traumatic brain injuries is critically important,” Murtaugh said.
Also opposing the measure was Alicia Gentle, representing the Nebraska Emergency Nurses Association. She said requiring motorcycle operators under the age of 21 to wear a helmet would protect less than 1% of all licensed operators in Nebraska.
“I have seen firsthand the impact wearing helmets has on motorcycle riders in our state,” Gentle said. “Helmets decrease the severity of head injuries, the likelihood of death and the cost of medical care.”
The committee took no immediate action on LB 581.