- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill that would let motorcyclists ride without helmets in Nebraska has reached the full Legislature, but supporters will have to overcome a filibuster for it to pass.

Lawmakers began debate Thursday on a measure to partially repeal Nebraska’s helmet requirement for motorcyclists, exempting riders older than 21. The measure’s author, Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, said he views helmets as an issue of freedom and personal choice.

“The Declaration of Independence says life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “Not conformity, control and a safe cocoon.”

Opponents promised an eight-hour filibuster on the bill - the maximum time allowed - saying the helmet law saves lives while reducing insurance and Medicaid costs. Lawmakers adjourned for the day before voting, and could resume debate on Friday.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said the 24-year-old helmet law has helped Nebraska prevent needless deaths and brain injuries.

“It would be inappropriate, in my judgment, to step back and allow our roads to become a place of greater carnage, filling up our emergency rooms with the brain injured who then go to the rehab hospitals in our state.

Opponents have tried for decades to repeal the helmet law, and this time they hope to find enough votes among the senators who were elected in 2012 because of term limits. The closest they came was in 2010, when supporters secured a 27-vote majority but failed to hit the 33 needed to end a filibuster.

Opponents of the helmet requirement argue that the state is losing tax revenue and tourism because riders often bypass the state. Motorcyclists testified in a committee hearing last year that many riders avoid Nebraska because it requires helmets, while all of its border states except for Missouri do not.

Medical and traffic-safety groups remain opposed to the bill, saying Nebraska already lacks services for residents with brain injuries, and eliminating the helmet requirement would only worsen the problem.

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The bill is LB393

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