Helmet-use proposal awaits its fate in House

Bill one of 55 contending for late, fast consideration

General Assembly

April 10, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Motorcyclists and safety advocates are watching to see what will become of a bill that would essentially repeal the state's motorcycle helmet law.

The bill, which passed the state Senate this week, is among 55 bills awaiting last-minute consideration in the House of Delegates Rules Committee before the Maryland General Assembly session winds down Monday night.

Among them are perennial bills on subjects such as slavery reparations, prayer and legislator salaries, some with little chance of becoming law, others consigned to the Rules Committee simply because they won Senate approval too late.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch wields the final authority over which bills, if any, he will release today for swift committee votes and possible consideration on the floor. With the budget, slots, the "flush tax" and a handful of other key decisions on the forefront of lawmakers' agendas, the 50 waitlisted bills might fall through the cracks, he said.

"If there's anything controversial, I'll talk to the committee chairs before I do anything," Busch said last night. "But I'm gonna try to let them all out."

The helmet bill, introduced by state Sen. John J. Hafer, an Allegany County Republican, would allow experienced motorcyclists age 21 and older to ride without helmets. Introduced year after year at the request of ABATE, an organization of motorcyclists opposed to helmet laws, the legislation has always died.

This time, after a change in lobbying tactics, the group is as close as it has ever been to overturning the law. The Senate passed the measure Thursday, 26-21.

"Whether there's time or not to get it through to a House vote is up to them," said Pat Corcoran, Anne Arundel chapter director of ABATE, an acronym for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments. "And if it doesn't pass this year, we have great momentum going into next year."

Opponents of the bill say helmets save motorcyclists' lives.

"The research shows that when helmet use goes down, fatalities go up," said Russell Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Baltimore Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, chairwoman of the Environmental Matters Committee that will consider the helmet bill if Busch releases it, said she's no fan of the idea.

"I certainly do not support the repeal of helmets," McIntosh said, "but if it comes out, well then, I'm gonna have a battle on that in my committee. We'll vote on it."

Assembly on baltimoresun.com

Learn the names of your representatives, how they voted on bills, how to contact them and how to register to vote.

Read the text of proposed legislation, including the Senate slots bill, SB 197; the budget bill, SB 125; the helmet bill, SB 611.

Review Sun coverage of the General Assembly and contact the writers.

www.baltimoresun.com/assembly

Yesterday's actions

TRANSPORTATION: The Senate votes 29-18 in favor of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transportation plan, which calls for an increase of $23.50 a year in car registration fees. The bill, which has already passed the House, will raise $165 million for transportation projects.

LIVING WAGE: The House Economic Matters Committee votes 13-9 to send to the full House a bill that would require employers with large state contracts to pay their workers $10.50 an hour. Approved by the Senate earlier this week, the living wage bill faces the governor's strong opposition.

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