Saturday, March 17, 2018

No-penalty bill to require kids under 12 to wear bicycle helmets falls 1 vote short in panel; advocates say it will be called up again

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A House bill to require children under 12 to wear bicycle helmets came up one vote short in the Senate Transportation Committee March 14, but advocates say the panel will take up the bill again Wednesday, March 21.

Mary Hass, advocacy director of the Brain Injury Alliance for Kentucky, told Kentucky Health News that two senators who were expected to vote for the bill voted against it, but it would still pass with votes of those who were absent.

House Bill 52, sponsored by Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, would require children under 12 to wear a helmet when they ride a bicycle. Violation would result in a courtesy warning, not a fine.

Heather Floyd and her son TJ spoke at the March 14 Senate
Transportation Committee meeting in support of "TJ's bill"
to require children up to age 12 to wear a bicycle helmet.
HB 52 is called "TJ's bill" for TJ Floyd of Oldham County, who sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2010 when he flipped over his handlebars when he was 7 while not wearing a helmet. It passed the House 77-5 on Feb. 2.

"This bill just makes helmets part of bicycle safety," Hass told advocates at a rally after the committee meeting. "There are no fines. It is not meant to be punitive in any way to parents. But BIAK's membership is telling us it gives parents another tool in their toolbox to keep their children safe."

The bill needed seven votes to clear the committee, but only got six. After some off-microphone discussion about what to do next, committee chair Ernie Harris of Oldham County told members that he might call it up again. BIAK said in an email alert the next day that Harris would have the committee hear the bill again Wednesday, March 21 at 9 a.m. in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Kentucky Health News has not confirmed that with Harris.

Haas said advocates went into the March 14 meeting thinking they had enough votes, but one supporter, Sen. Jared Carpenter of Berea, was caught in a traffic jam, and another, President Pro Tem Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon, left before the vote was taken. Democratic Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonburg was also absent.

The "no" votes came from Republican Sens. Joe Bowen of Owensboro, C.B. Embry of Morgantown and Paul Hornback of Shelbyville. A BIAK alert said the group expected Hornback to vote for the bill but he changed his mind before the meeting.

Haas and TJ's mother, Heather Floyd, said Embry had said he would vote for the bill. Embry disputed that, telling Kentucky Health News, "I didn't tell them I was voting for it. I said I would give it consideration." He said the bill probably has enough votes to get out of committee if all members attend.

Embry said he voted no because he didn't think the bill is necessary, especially because it has no penalties. He also voiced concerns about liability if a child was injured while not wearing a helmet on someone else's property or under the care of someone who was not a family member.

"I think they should wear a helmet," Embry said. "I think that parents should require them to wear a helmet. I think they should have enough sense to do that on their own, without the government demanding it."

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, voiced similar liability concerns during the meeting, but voted for the bill.

At the meeting, Floyd urged the panel to pass the bill to prevent similar injuries to other children. She shared a long list of cognitive and physical struggles that plague TJ and others with brain injuries and that have stripped him of his ability to live an independent life. She said the bill is about bringing awareness to traumatic brain injuries, which affect more than 5 million Americans, and the importance of protecting children's brains.

BIAK says 384 American children die annually from bicycle crashes and 450,000 more are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle related injuries, with about 135,000 of those seen in the ER related to head injuries. Hass said after the rally that bicycle helmets are about 85 percent effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries when used properly.

Mary Hass of the Brain Injury Alliance
for Kentucky spoke at the March 14 rally.
Floyd told the committee, "The biggest and most important point is that this bill can save a child's life."

BIAK Executive Director Eddie Reynolds said after the rally that opposition to the bill often stems from concerns about personal freedoms.

Haas said motorcycle advocates have opposed the bill out of concerns it would lead to restoration of an old law requiring Kentucky adults to wear helmets while riding motorcycles. Current state law requires both operators and passengers on a motorcycle under the age of 21 to wear a helmet.

"There is no will in this legislature to want to put helmets on people who ride motorcycles. We feel that is their choice," Haas said. "This bill is only about protecting children and doing what our membership has asked us to do."

Similar bicycle helmet legislation has been considered in the House for several years. Last year, HB 122 passed the House 90-6 but was not heard in the Senate.

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