No-penalty bill to require bicycle helmets dies, as some senators counted as 'yes' votes fail to show up for final committee meeting

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. – A no-penalty bill to require children under 12 to wear a helmet when bicycling has died for this legislative session, after falling one vote short in the Senate Transportation Committee March 14, and being passed over due to absences at the next meeting, on March 21.

"Adequate notice was given to members of both parties that this bill was going to be up, and some votes that I thought the sponsor could count on didn't show up," committee Chair Ernie Harris, a Republican from Prospect in Oldham County, said after the meeting. He said the bill is dead.

Democratic Sens. Gerald Neal of Louisville and Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg, as well as Republican Albert Robinson of London, were absent.

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

"We had three votes that were nos, and the rest were yeses," sponsor Regina Huff told Kentucky Health News. "Somehow they all weren't in the meeting on the same day, and I don't know if that's by chance or by design quite frankly." The bill passed the House 77-5 on Feb. 2.

At the March 14 committee meeting, two senators that the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky expected to vote for the bill voted against it, and three who were expected to vote yes were absent, according to BIAK.

The lobbying group calls HB 52 "TJ's bill" for TJ Floyd of Oldham County, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when he flipped over his handlebars while not wearing a helmet at age 7 in 2010. It 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.

"It is a bill for safety, for children at play to be safer when they are riding their. bikes," said Huff, a Republican from Williamsburg in southeastern Kentucky. "Helmets are 84 to 89 percent effective against a TBI, and prevention is the only cure for a TBI." 

But Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, who changed his vote to a no, said it would be "an overreach by government." He told Kentucky Health News that after talking to other policymakers and several lawyers, he became concerned about the implications for owners of private property on which children might ride bicycles and non-relatives who might be caring for them when bicycling.

Sen. Ernie Harris
Kentucky Health News asked Harris why he wouldn't hold a special meeting of the committee in the Senate chamber, when all members would likely be available. He said he had already given the bill two chances, which he had never done for a bill before – then said that it didn't have the support advocates thought.

"People have come up to me to say, 'I really don't want to vote on it, but if I have to, I will,' so the votes are not there," Harris said. "I have no explanation for why some people didn't show up. . . . I did everything I could to get people that would vote for it."

Clearly disappointed, Huff said the advocates would try again next year, and she was pleased it had received a hearing in the Senate for the first time. Similar legislation has been considered in the House for several years; last year's HB 122 passed the House 90-6 but was not heard in the Senate.

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