CONCORD — The House Transportation Committee on Wednesday forwarded House Bill 1621 — which would have required helmets for those operating motorcycles and similar vehicles — to the full House with a recommendation of “inexpedient to legislate,” which typically means the proposal is dead.
During a Feb. 4 hearing on the bill, 259 people signed up to speak against the bill, while only four planned to support it. Not everyone ended up speaking, but opponents dominated the three-hour hearing.
Rep. Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia, who serves on the House Transportation Committee as well as acting as director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said there was a lot of discussion before the panel voted, 16-4, to give it a thumbs-down on Wednesday.
Those in favor of the bill discussed the public burden of caring for those with traumatic brain injury and other conditions that may have been prevented by wearing a helmet. Others argued that people need the extra kick that a law provides to take safety measures seriously.
Yet the committee agreed that they heard “loud and clear” from constituents that it should be a matter of choice, especially in a state with the “Live Free or Die” motto. People in New Hampshire strongly believe in that freedom of choice, even if they personally choose to wear helmets.
St. Clair said he pointed out to the committee that there had been no support for similar safety measures in other areas, such as in automobiles or homes. “You can slip on ice on the sidewalk and get injured,” he said.
The economic impact that motorcycle riders provide to the state was a big part of the discussion. During the hearing, several people said having a helmet law would reduce the number of riders in New Hampshire and negatively affect revenue from the Rooms and Meals Tax, as well as hurting businesses that benefit from those visitors.
Jennifer Anderson, deputy director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, had testified that all three national rallies — Laconia, Daytona, and Sturgis — agree that mandatory helmet laws decrease rally attendance.
She said that the state taxes most impacted by Laconia’s rally are the Rooms and Meals Tax, business taxes, and toll revenue, and that “toll revenue increases 13% on average during the rally compared to the other weeks in June.”
Last June, Rooms and Meals Tax revenue totaled $28 million, a $4 million increase from the previous month, and total revenue for the month was $196 million, which was more than double the amount ($96 million) that the state collected in the peak summer month of July, Anderson said, quoting figures from the Department of Revenue Administration.