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Missouri House sends motorcycle helmet law to the Senate

Christopher Buchanan
Insignia Films

Updated April 8, 1:04 a.m. -- A proposed exemption to Missouri's motorcycle helmet law continues moving forward.

The state House passed HB 1464 Thursday by a vote of 103-43.  It's not enough to survive a potential veto from Governor Jay Nixon, who vetoed an outright repeal of the helmet requirement in 2009.

Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, says, though, if this year's bill gets vetoed he'll work to override it.

"We had members absent today, (and) I think we'll have a good opportunity to take a run at a veto override on this," Richardson told reporters Thursday.  "That's a credit to the way Representative (Eric) Burlison has worked with some of the people that have been opposed to this bill in the past and tried to make it a little better."

Burlison, R-Springfield, has sponsored the proposal every year since 2013, though last year was the first time his included language requiring health coverage for riding without a helmet.

"Are we the ones that tell people, 'you should not be running with scissors?'" he said before the vote. "We are entrusted with people's liberty...let's not take it from them because we think we know better than they do."

Opponents from both sides of the aisle argued that riding without a helmet is dangerous, and that head injuries represent a huge financial burden to both riders and their families.

The bill is now in the hands of the Missouri Senate.  Majority floor leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, gave no indication as to when or if the helmet bill would make it to the Senate floor. 

Original story -- The Missouri House has given first-round approval to legislation that would allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets.

Under the bill given first-round approval, motorcyclists could ride without helmets, provided they are at least 21 years old and have $50,000 worth of health insurance coverage.  House Bill 1464 is sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.

"Put this in perspective: people who are adults, taxpayers who are living on the road who just want to express their freedom, many of which are veterans who went and fought a war and now they're coming back and they just want a little bit of that freedom that they fought for," Burlison said. "I think that that's what we're doing at the end of the day — giving people a little bit of their freedom back."

Opponents from both parties argued that riding a motorcycle without a helmet is too dangerous, and, that even with insurance, medical expenses from head injuries can financially ruin families.

"The majority of head injuries caused by motorcycle accidents are in men ages 45 to 55," said Rep. Sue Meredith, D-St. Louis. "Now, I understand the freedom, but the wind in your hair, I don't get it."

That comments sparked scattered laughter throughout the House chamber.

On a more serious note, Meredith said, "This is at a time in your life when you have a family to support, you have college-age kids, (and) there are a lot of economic issues. It's not a personal choice; it's a family choice, (and) your family is going to have to take care of you if you have an accident, be it a skinned knee or a head injury."

Meredith sponsored an amendment that would have raised the minimum health insurance coverage to $500,000 from the proposed $50,000.

"Having had someone in trauma in the hospital, $50,000 doesn't go very far," she said. "It gets you in the door."

The amendment was defeated on a voice vote.

"We should not be punishing the people that are abiding by the law that have health insurance," said Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph. "We should be loosening the restrictions on the people that are abiding by the law, and we should not punish them."

While most Republican House members supported the bill's personal liberty philosophy, the most vocal opposition also came from a Republican. Keith Frederick of Rolla is both a state representative and an orthopedic surgeon.

"We have allocated money in our budget for traumatic brain injury, (and) we have a thousand people waiting for treatment. We have the opportunity to be involved in an initiative, in conjunction with our military and with multiple stakeholders that have expertise in our state, to address this problem of traumatic brain injury. It doesn't really seem to make sense to me that we are, on the one hand, going to allow more individuals to suffer these traumatic brain injuries, while on the other hand we're funding through the traumatic brain injury fund and through Medicaid, and we're trying to take a leadership role with our military, to prevent these injuries."

He finished by saying, "in terms of support for this bill, this wind-in-your-hair, freedom-loving, brain-splattering, taxpayer-punishing, helmet law, I'll be a 'no' (vote) again this year."

House bill 1464 was perfected on a voice vote. It needs another vote by the full House before moving to the Missouri Senate.

In 2009, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have done away with the state's helmet law for a five-year period while not requiring insurance coverage.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.