- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An attempt to repeal Nebraska’s motorcycle helmet law stalled on Monday with lawmakers split over concerns for personal freedom and safety.

Supporters fell nine votes short of the 33 needed to halt debate and vote on the measure. The repeal bill now falls to the bottom of this year’s agenda, likely killing it for the year.

The repeal measure would have lifted Nebraska’s restriction on motorcycle helmets for riders who are at least 21 years old. Operators would still have to wear eye protection.

Motorcyclist groups have tried to repeal the law for more than two decades. Nebraska is one of 19 states that require helmets for all riders. If the law passes, it would join the 28 states with a “partial helmet” law that include exceptions for certain riders. Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire are the only states with no requirement, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said he introduced the bill because riders should choose for themselves whether to wear a helmet. Bloomfield said the state is losing valuable tourism and tax revenue because motorcyclists are avoiding the state.

Opponents said the current requirement saves lives.

“If we repeal this law, this Legislature will have blood on its hands,” said Sen. Tommy Garrett, of Bellevue.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha pointed to studies which showed average insurance claims increasing in states that eased their helmet laws, due largely to more severe injuries.

A 2013 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that the average insurance payments on motorcycle injury claims in Michigan rose after the state exempted most riders from its helmet requirement.

In 2012, Michigan eliminated the requirement for all riders except those younger than 21. All others are allowed to ride without a helmet if they pass a motorcycle safety course or have maintained a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license for at least two years. Riders also must carry at least $20,000 in medical coverage to ride without a helmet.

“We don’t know when that accident is going to happen,” Hilkemann said. “That’s why we put air bags in our cars to protect ourselves, just in case.”

Nebraska motorcyclists testified in a hearing last month that the state provides the most direct route to the world’s largest motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, but thousands of riders avoid Nebraska because of its helmet law. With an estimated 700,000 riders expected this year, they argued that Nebraska is losing millions in gas station and lodging business.

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The bill is LB31

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