Concord, New Hampshire ... On Thursday, February 17, 2000, the House of Representatives killed the latest proposal for a helmet law in the Granite State. The action on H.B. 1458 began with a House Transportation Committee hearing on February 2 at which over 400 motorcyclists expressed their opposition. The chairman called a special second hearing the following week as a courtesy to the primary sponsor who was absent at the first hearing due to illness. Following that hearing, the bill was moved out of committee with a status of "Inexpedient to Legislate" (ITL) by a unanimous vote of 17-0. "ITL" status placed the bill on a consent docket with other such bills that can be voted down altogether on the floor. According to the NH Legislature's House rules, any member may call up a bill on the docket for a separate discussion and vote. Not one of the 400 House members, including the sponsors, thought the helmet law bill merited such consideration.
The MRF accepted an invitation to testify at this important hearing from the New Hampshire Motorcyclist Rights Organization (NHMRO) to help keep the "Live Free or Die" state helmet free. Other organizations joining the MRF in supporting the NHMRO included United Bikers of Maine, Freedom of the Road from Vermont, Modified Motorcycle Association of Massachusetts, and the American Motorcyclist Association.
The bill sponsored by Representatives Copenhaver and Brothers and Sen. Squires mandates that all motorcycle riders and passengers wear an approved helmet. The bill also includes a requirement that new applicants would have to show "proof of having received headgear safety training." Support for the bill was relatively weak. The Department of Public Safety submitted written testimony only. The bill was introduced by a co-sponsor and Ellen M. Edgerly, of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire, presented an emotional appeal referring to the burden placed on the family of a victim of a permanent head injury.
Opposing testimony noted the negligible effect of the Massachusetts helmet law when comparing crash injuries in the neighboring state. Claims that motorcyclists are a burden to society was countered with data which established that motorcyclists are more responsible than most when it comes to maintaining insurance coverage. Steve Zimmer, MRF Vice President of Government Relations, testified, "It is time to stop accusing motorcyclists of being a burden when, in fact, they are responsible citizens and often contribute more to society than most non-motorcyclists."
The contribution motorcyclists play in the economy of the state, through millions of dollars in tourism, was illustrated in testimony from several individuals who work in that industry. New Hampshire hosts one of the "big three" motorcycle events in Laconia every June. Testimony from out of state riders pointed to the fact that thousands of riders come specifically to New Hampshire every year to tour the state's beautiful roadways because there is no helmet law. It was also pointed out that the helmet safety training required in the bill does not exist, nor is there any funding for such programs.
Rep Sherman A. Packard, Chairman of the Transportation Committee said, "The citizens of New Hampshire and its neighboring states spoke loud and clear on this issue. Our committee agreed with them." Committee member Rep. Bob Letourneau added, "With this vote today the New Hampshire House members continued with their tradition of recognizing the value our citizens place on personal responsibility and individual liberty." Chairman Packard & Rep. Letourneau are long-time motorcyclists and NHMRO members who made the ultimate political activist's commitment some years ago --- they ran for office!
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