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Bikers arrive at a previous motorcycle awareness ride in Springfield. (Photo: News-Leader file photo)
State lawmakers, including local representatives, had hoped to let some ride without them this year and passed a bill with language repealing the state’s helmet requirement for riders ages 18 and up with qualifying health insurance in May.
But the idea got tied up with a bunch of other changes to the law, and on Friday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson decided some of them were too much.
In his veto message, Parson focused his disapproval on a provision giving courts outside of St. Louis and St. Louis County the power to take away drivers’ licenses if people don’t pay fines for minor traffic offenses.
Parson wrote that the proposal would “significantly” undermine a law passed in 2015 aimed at preventing abuse of such power statewide after the previous year’s events in Ferguson brought the issue into focus.
In an interview, Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, who sponsored a stand-alone bill to repeal the helmet mandate, said he was “disappointed” by the veto and guessed bikers were “probably devastated.”
But Burlison took some solace in the fact that Parson, who supported repealing the helmet rule as a legislator, took no issue with the helmet issue in his veto message. And he told the News-Leader he would try again next year.
“It’s an issue that I support on principle and I’m going to continue to support it until it passes,” Burlison said.
Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, who feels much the same way about the helmet rule, offered a similar assessment.
“I’m disappointed,” he said, “but I’m hopeful we can attack the problem again next year and give people that freedom to decide whether they want to wear a helmet or not.”
Former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, nixed a similar effort in 2009 out of concern for safety and the cost of injuries to taxpayers.
National Highway Transportation Safety Agency research indicates helmets saved more than 1,800 lives in 2016, and that if all motorcyclists would have worn helmets that year, 802 more people could have been saved.
And on its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear: "The single most effective way for states to save lives and save money is a universal helmet law."
Researchers in California, Texas and Arkansas have also found evidence supporting that conclusion in recent decades.
In a previous interview, though, Burlison noted that after Michigan repealed its helmet law in 2012, researchers found no difference between death rates in the 12 months before and after the change.
And some of Burlison's colleagues worried that more people suffering severe traumatic brain injuries, which state agencies anticipated, would cost the state's Medicaid system money.
While the bill requires people riding without helmets to maintain health insurance in addition to motorcycle insurance, opponents pointed out they would only have to prove coverage if they were pulled over by law enforcement for something else.
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