JEFFERSON CITY — A local lawmaker still wants to let some Missouri motorcyclists ditch their helmets.
Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, almost had it last year. After pitching the idea as a win for individual freedom, he got it attached to a larger transportation bill that passed both houses. But Gov. Mike Parson couldn’t stomach another part of the bill and vetoed it.
This year, Burlison thinks he's got a decent shot to pass the idea as its own bill. Parson, a Republican, supported similar stand-alone bills as a legislator, so Burlison’s main focus is on getting it through the legislature again.
"We’ll see how much time (Senate leaders) give it on the floor," he said Friday, "but over time, we’ve made so many compromises on this, so I hope people will take that into consideration."
Those compromises, Burlison said, include a requirement for those going without helmets to have qualifying health insurance. The exemption from the state’s helmet rule would also only apply to riders ages 18 and up.
Those provisions will likely never be enough for opposing lawmakers who say the plan will lead to more deadly accidents. They have a point.
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.
On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make its position clear: "The single most effective way for states to save lives and save money is a universal helmet law."
They also point out that riders wouldn’t have to prove insurance coverage unless they were pulled over by law enforcement and worry the cost of accidents will ultimately take a toll on Medicaid.
But Burlison sees the entire issue differently.
"At the end of the day, it’s about individual responsibility and individual freedom," he said. "I want my neighbor to stay safe and healthy, but it’s not my business to force those decisions upon my neighbor."
He added that many supporters of his change are retired veterans who deserve to make their own choices.
"These are big boys and big girls that have fought and risked their lives for the country," he said. "The least we can do is let them be free while they’re here."
In previous interviews, Burlison has also pushed back on the troubling statistics his opponents cite. He pointed out that after Michigan repealed its law in 2012, researchers found no difference between death rates in the 12 months before and after the move.
They noted a 14 percent increase in head injuries, however.
After leaders of motorcyclist groups spoke in favor of Burlison's bill in a Senate committee hearing in January, a long list of representatives from health care organizations testified against it.
Burlison’s bill nevertheless passed out of committee Jan. 30. It now awaits debate before the full chamber.
The legislation is Senate Bill 590.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.