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A bid to repeal Louisiana’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law for 99 percent of riders failed Wednesday in the state House.

The vote was 49-46, four shy of the minimum needed.

Opponents called the push to repeal the law one that would result in more deaths and liability problems for motorists involved in accidents with helmet-less motorcycle operators.

“Sometimes, safety is paramount, and this is the case,” said state Rep. Thomas Willmott, R-Kenner.

Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, sponsor of the bill and a motorcycle operator, said bikers should make the final call.

“I believe that there should be a choice,” Schexnayder said. “I think it is their choice. I don’t think (helmets) save all lives.”

Under current rules, both riders and passengers are required to wear safety helmets regardless of age.

The bill would lift that requirement for those 21 and older.

The state has 159,314 residents 21 and older with motorcycle endorsements on their driver’s license and 810 under 21, state officials said during the committee hearing on the bill.

Schexnayder said even government-approved safety helmets costing up to $400 have limited value.

He said federal transportation officials have said the headgear should be replaced if it is dropped.

Schexnayder, who may seek a second vote on his bill, also said Louisiana has missed out hosting financially lucrative motorcycle gatherings to nearby states because of the 2004 helmet law.

Willmott, in a series of questions to the sponsor of the bill, noted that football players, race car drivers and lacrosse players wear helmets.

Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said it would be unfair to expose motorists to costly damages because they were in accidents with motorcycle operators without helmets.

“I think it is irresponsible not to have a helmet, I really do,” she said.

Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, a backer of the bill, said she has paid to jump out of an airplane, drives a convertible and once saw a motorcycle accident that resulted in a severed head.

“It wasn’t pretty, and he had a helmet on,” White said.

She added, “I think you should have the choice. We are still living in America where there are choices.”

After the vote, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, announced that the bill passed, sparking cheers from the House gallery where backers of the bill watched the debate.

Barras quickly corrected himself because most bills require a 53-vote majority in the 105-member House.

“Excuse me, the bill fails,” Barras said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog.