The Maryland House of Delegates today gave its overwhelming approval to a bill to require all motorcyclists to wear helmets.
The bill passed by a 103-29 vote, after years of being killed at the committee level.
The difference this year is money, although some proponents do not like to admit it. The federal government is offering financial incentives to states with mandatory helmet laws.
A gubernatorial commission also has found that Maryland could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with a helmet law because it would prevent some serious head injuries to bikers.
The state spends that amount of money on medical bills for accident victims who are uninsured or receiving Medicaid.
The bill's opponents said the issue is not money but the freedom of adults to decide for themselves whether to wear helmets.
"I feel very strongly on the issue of choice," said Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery.
Mr. Dembrow said he doubted legislators would look as favorably on a bill restricting "freedoms" of accountants. The helmet bill may reflect "class discrimination" against people who "dress differently" by wearing long hair and leather jackets, he said.
During floor debate, a chief proponent of the helmet bill downplayed the financial incentives for passing the Schaefer administration legislation. "It's a good safety feature," said John S. Arnick, D-Balto. Co., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Yes, there's some money involved, but that is the least important aspect."
But Del. Theodore Levin, D-Balto. Co., a co-sponsor, said the measure is doing better this year because it saves money. "We're fighting to save pennies this year," he said.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it must pass the powerful Judicial Proceedings Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, said the bill's passage is not assured. "A lot of people thought it's a done deal, and it's not a done deal." he said.