JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Thursday that would have relaxed a law that requires motorcyclists in Missouri to wear helmets at all times, citing concerns about highway safety and health care costs.
The veto came despite a lobbying campaign from bill supporters, some of whom said Nixon had pledged to sign the bill. But the Missouri Department of Transportation commissioned a poll seeking to persuade the Democratic governor to veto.
The legislation would have lifted Missouri's helmet requirement for motorcycle riders 21 and older when they are not traveling on interstate highways. It also included a provision that would bar insurance companies from assigning fault for an accident to someone solely for riding a motorcycle. The insurance portion is included in other legislation that still is on Nixon's desk.
"In terms of lives and of dollars, the cost of repealing Missouri's helmet law simply would have been too high," Nixon said in a written statement. "By keeping Missouri's helmet law intact, we will save numerous lives, while also saving Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars in increased health care costs. Keeping our helmet law in place was the safe and cost-effective choice for Missouri."
But a supporter of lifting the helmet requirement said Nixon would get the bill every year he is governor. Mark Chapman, the chairman of the Freedom of Road Riders of Missouri, said that if Missouri were truly concerned about safety, police would be allowed to pull over those not wearing seat belts and the state would require those riding horses and bicycles to wear helmets and those who are obese to lose weight.
"It's a basic freedom of choice," Chapman said. "Even God gives me a right to choose whether I believe in him or not. Another human being should be not be able to make a choice for someone else."
Similar motorcycle helmet bills have been debated in previous years, but they had never cleared the legislature. This year's measure moved through relatively easily, but it encountered resistance after Nixon began deciding whether to endorse it.
MoDOT Director Pete Rahn, who is selected by a commission of gubernatorial appointees, took the unusual step of lobbying the governor's office over a bill. In a May news conference outside the emergency room of a Jefferson City hospital, Rahn called for a veto and presented a poll showing that 84 percent of Missourians support the current law.
The maneuver rankled some lawmakers and Nixon, who in June docked $33,000 for expenses and equipment from MoDOT's budget to offset the cost of the survey.
In a written statement Thursday, Rahn said Nixon had shown "courageous and compassionate leadership" with the veto. "He has saved lives today," Rahn said.
Supporters of relaxing the motorcycle helmet requirements also were active in attempting to sway Nixon's office. In May, The Associated Press reviewed about 1,000 letters that had been sent to the governor's office about the bill. At the time, those urging Nixon to sign it outnumbered those urging a veto by about 7-to-1.
The helmet veto was one of several announced by the governor's office. Others included:
- A measure that would have required traffic to yield in Kansas City to pedestrians and bicycles in crosswalks. Nixon said the provisions would have been added into a portion of state law that local governments use as a template for traffic ordinances.
- A measure to create a special state fund to collect fees from students taking general education development tests. It was vetoed because the governor feared that it could drive up the cost of the administrative fees.
Motorcycle bill is SB202.
Education fund bill is HB373.
Traffic bill is SB89.