Let’s hear it for helmet hair!

Katy Grimes: A bill passed the Assembly today, requiring children under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while skiing or snow boarding, causing me to wonder if the next helmet bill will be for klutzy women in high heals. If so, I am doomed to have helmet hair the rest of my life.

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, presented SB 880, authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and said that the ski industry supported it. Jones was met with immediate resistance from Republican colleagues.

Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton said the bill was being pushed hastily and was not supported by the ski industry, as Jones had said.

According to Norby, the ski industry was pushed into supporting Yee’s bill because it was the less restrictive of two legislative helmet bills, the other (AB 1652) authored by Jones. According to a March AP story, Jones’ bill would be “the most restrictive in the nation, mandating helmets for all skiers and snowboarders under the age of 18 and imposing stricter safety rules on California ski resorts. AB 1652 would require ski resorts to file annual safety plans and issue monthly reports about injuries and deaths, whereas Yee’s bill makes a violation of the law punishable with a $25 fine.”

Language in Jones’ bill states, “The bill would also provide that it shall become operative only if SB 880 is also enacted.”

“34 people were killed in skiing accidents in 2009, but none would have been saved by a helmet,” Norby said. He compared the bill’s restrictions to other states: “No other state or province in Canada has helmet laws.” Norby said that skiing vacationers would probably consider Utah or Colorado over California if the bill passes.

“Parents will have to shell out $75 to $85 per helmet or a $25 fine for violation,” said Norby. He asked if Child Protective Services will be called on parents who violate the helmet law.

As for who would enforce helmet use on the ski slopes, a spirited debate took place between Jones and Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks.

“Who is responsible for enforcement?” asked Niello. “Are ski patrols to be deputized? Or will we have law enforcement on the slopes?”
Jones replied, “Most people follow the law, which is why we pass them.” “Will parents not do this unless we ask them to?” Niello asked.

“One study found that 7,000 ski injuries could have been prevented had people worn helmets,” Jones explained.

Niello called the bill “more nanny government,” saying that it “infringes on parents’ rights.”

Democrats stated support for the bill and likened it to other helmet laws for motorcycles and bicycles, as well as infant and child car seats, seat belts and other safety restraints.

Republicans opposed the bill – except for Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville. Gains said that as skier since age five, and because it was about the safety of kids, he supported the bill.

Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, said, “$25 is not going to be a deterrent.” Knight defended the rights of parents to make safety decisions for children, and said, “Parents are still going to be safe without this bill.” Knighted also explained that other helmet laws are about people traveling on public streets. This bill infringes on private property owners according to Knight. “If I want to drive around my own 1,000 acres without my seatbelt on, I should be able to.”

Right before the vote, Jones was asked to make his closing statement. “I wish I’d brought my helmet,” he said. Jones then invoked the memory of recently deceased Republican Senator Dave Cox, saying that Cox supported the measure. However, the bill’s history shows that during the vote in the Senate Health Committee June 30, Cox abstained. (UPDATE: Kayte Fisher from Assemblyman Jones’ office wrote, “I just wanted to point out that Mr. Cox did not abstain from voting on the bill in committee, he was out sick with the cancer he eventually died from.  However, one of his last votes on the Senate floor was in support of the bill.  It was a big deal, Sen. Yee presented Sen. Cox with his very own helmet.)

Eventually the bill passed along party lines: Democrats had 42 votes in support, 20 Republicans opposed.

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