Motorcycle operators 21 and older would have the option of wearing safety helmets, not be required to, under a bill that breezed through a House committee Tuesday.

Former State Police Superintendent Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, made the motion for approval. “I think a choice, personal freedom, is very important,” Landry said.

However, even if the bill clears the Legislature, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he would not sign it.

“No, I don’t support it,” Edwards said.

The measure, House Bill 337, next faces a vote in the full House.

Louisiana’s law, which was approved in 2004, requires both motorcycle drivers and riders to wear helmets regardless of age.

John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, told the House Transportation Committee that, if the bill becomes law, he expects 128 additional fatalities in the next decade because of the reduced restriction.

LeBlanc said Texas and Florida experienced spikes in motorcycle deaths — 51 percent and 25 percent, respectively — after those states passed laws similar to the one approved Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor is state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales and a motorcycle operator himself.

“Basically, all they are asking for is freedom of choice,” said Schexnayder, a reference to motorcycle enthusiasts who attended the committee meeting from Shreveport and elsewhere.

He said 28 states have laws similar to the one he is proposing.

The state has 159,314 residents 21 and older with motorcycle endorsements on their driver’s license and 810 under 21, according to Karen St. Germain, commissioner of the state Office of Motor Vehicles and former chairwoman of the committee.

Whether safety helmets should be mandatory in Louisiana has triggered arguments for years.

The law was pushed by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal then backed efforts to repeal the measure, using the same freedom-of-choice arguments employed by repeal backers this time.

Randy Postlethwait, president of a motorcycle rights group called ABATE, urged the committee to back the repeal measure.

“Understand the choice should be ours to make,” said Postlethwait, who lives in Shreveport.

“Helmets are not the answer,” he said. “Other states have shown us that.”

Cecil Crawford, who lives in Ruston, agreed.

Crawford said 89 motorcycle riders who died in Louisiana in a recent year were all wearing safety helmets.

“A helmet will not keep you from getting killed,” he said.

Some committee members said they were concerned about potential state costs if fatalities and injuries rise.

“We are in some trying times,” state Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, said of state finances.

Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, said he met with an emergency room doctor who described recent injuries to a motorcycle operator, including a broken arm and a crushed helmet.

“Yet he had no head injuries,” LeBas said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell.

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