Arkansas repeals helmet law for those 21 and over

First state in 14 years to repeal law

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- On Wednesday, March 12, 1997, Arkansas became the first state in 14 years to repeal, or amend, its helmet law to provide for freedom of choice for motorcyclists. Governor Mike Huckabee (R) signed into law the legislation (SB227) repealing Arkansas' helmet law for motorcyclists 21 years of age and older after the state legislature overwhelming passed the legislation.

According to ABATE of Arkansas volunteer lobbyist, Rodney Roberts, "This victory is the result of eleven years of hard work by the motorcyclists of Arkansas and by late June or early July the motorcyclists of America will be able to better enjoy riding in Arkansas by being able to make their own decision about whether or not to wear a helmet."

This effort to repeal Arkansas' helmet law for adults began in 1986 when motorcyclists in Arkansas began organizing and formed ABATE of Arkansas. In 1987, at the request of ABATE of Arkansas, then freshman, state Senator George Hopkins (D) introduced a bill to repeal or modify the mandatory helmet law that had been law since June 29, 1967. Working with ABATE of Arkansas, Senator Hopkins has re-introduce his legislation every session since. Motorcycling state Senator Mike Everett (D) joined Senator Hopkins in his efforts and under the leadership of these two senators on Friday, February 11, 1997, the Arkansas State Senate voted 23 to 10 to repeal Arkansas' helmet law for motorcycle riders 21 years of age and older.

After the passage of SB227 by the senate, state Representatives Buddy Wallis (D), Greg Wren (D) and Sandra Rodgers (D) undertook the leadership roles that brought the legislation to the House floor. On Wednesday, March 5, 1997, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed SB227, with one minor technical amendment, on a vote of 62-31. On Thursday, March 6, 1997, the Arkansas State Senate approved the technical amendment and on March 7, 1997, SB227 was officially transmitted to Governor Huckabee for his signature. Under Arkansas law, once a bill is transmitted to the governor, the governor has 5 days (excluding Sundays) in which to either sign the bill into law, or veto it, or it becomes law without his signature.

Even though Governor Huckabee had repeatedly said he would sign the bill, the opponents of freedom of choice for motorcyclists tried one last lobby effort to persuade him to veto the legislation. On Monday, March 10, 1997, while Governor Huckabee was on a TV call in show, someone opposed to the legislation called in and asked if he was really going to sign the repeal into law. Governor Huckabee's response was that this legislation had been fully debated by the Arkansas Legislature and that both the House and Senate had overwhelmingly passed the legislation and he would sign the bill into law before the end of the week. The hard work of the members of ABATE of Arkansas had resulted in margins of victory in both the House and Senate that were in excess of the 2/3 majority needed to over ride a veto.

Under Arkansas law, all laws passed in a session of the Arkansas General Assembly become law on the 91st day after the legislature adjourns for the year. The Arkansas General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, March 28, 1997. If the legislature meets that schedule, motorcyclists 21 years of age and older will have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to wear a helmet on June 27, 1997.

ABATE of Arkansas lobbyist Rodney Roberts praised the work of the members of ABATE for their dedication and credited their activism with being the driving force that built the support of legislators. Roberts stated, "One of the best things our members did was to take the `be nice' approach when talking to legislators. Our strategy involved not demonizing any member who was against us, we politely accepted their no for the time being and continued to address the concerns they raised. In time, many legislators who originally had been against freedom of choice came over to our side and supported repeal of the helmet law for those 21 years of age and older."

Roberts also thanked the Arkansas Motorcycle Dealers Association for their assistance in this effort by saying, "The entire Arkansas motorcycle community pulled together on this legislation, including the Arkansas Motorcycle Dealers Association, which under the leadership of president Emmett Jones, worked
for passage of SB227."

Roberts went on to note that the MRF and American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) had been key in helping ABATE win this historic victory. "This repeal would not have been possible if the MRF and AMA had not coordinated the efforts of the state motorcyclists' rights organizations that lead to the repeal of federal penalties on states without helmet laws in 1995. Repeal of the federal penalties removed a major obstacle to our efforts in Arkansas to return freedom of choice to adult motorcyclists after 30 years of mandated helmet use." Roberts also stated, "The training I, and other members of ABATE of Arkansas, received over the years at MRF's Meeting of the Minds conferences was instrumental in helping us develop and execute a successful strategy to change our helmet law."

"We are very happy and excited about ABATE of Arkansas' success," stated Wayne Curtin, MRF's vice president of government relations. "Finally, after 14 years, motorcyclists have again been able to return freedom of choice on helmet use to motorcyclists in another state. This action has broken the ice again on repealing or modifying helmet laws and I hope this is the first of several repeals that we will see in 1997 and 1998." Curtin went on to say, "Motorcyclists need to express their appreciation to Arkansas for taking this bold action. I hope that every motorcyclist who travels to Arkansas this summer to enjoy this newly returned freedom will stop at the Arkansas welcome centers and write in the logs they keep there that the reason they came to Arkansas on vacation was because the state had repealed the helmet law. One of the things we need to do is show states there is a financial benefit to repealing helmet laws and tourism dollars are very important to any state's economy."

Wyoming, in 1983, was the last state to repeal its helmet law for adult motorcyclists prior to the action this week in Arkansas. However, helmet law repeal efforts are underway and moving forward in several other states, including: Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Oregon, Florida, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Guam repeals 18 and over Helmet Law

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