Back in April, Spokane County commissioners practically broke their necks in an effort to get a possible helmet law before constituents for comment.
But in the last couple of weeks, it appeared like an ordinance that would require headgear had hit the skids.
On Tuesday, however, the commissioners said they would be prepared to hold a public hearing on the matter in July or August. A few niggling details, though, would have to be dealt with first.
Commissioner Mark Richard said he wanted to be sure that Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was supportive of any new laws that he and his deputies would have to enforce.
“That’s a go- or no-go for me,” Richard said. “I want the sheriff’s opinion and support. (If he’s not supportive), what would make him more comfortable with it?”
Richard also said he was unsure whether the law should only apply to those under 18 (or 16) or to all ages.
“If you have adults running around without helmets and telling kids you have to follow the rules but their parents don’t have to, that could be setting ourselves up for failure,” he said.
Back when the proposed law was brought forward in April, Marion Lee, injury-prevention specialist with the Spokane Regional Health District, told commissioners that a law would require helmets on anyone who rides bicycles, skates and skateboards, and scooters.
“It’s the best way to deal with preventable head injuries,” Lee told the commissioners at the time. She added that, in 2007, there were 1,300 reports of wheeled-sport injuries in Spokane County. Also, a 2008 study showed that 90 percent of kids never or rarely wear helmets. Of that group of 10- to 17-year-olds, 60 percent were the ones getting injured.
Currently, in this area, only the city of Spokane has a helmet law for all ages. The ordinance, which passed by a 5-1 vote in 2004, was threatened by a veto by then-Mayor Jim West, who said he wanted a law that more specifically targeted children 16 and under and not cover skateboarders and inline skaters.
Current Spokane County Board Chairman Al French, who sat on the Spokane City Council at that time, voted in favor of the ordinance.
Commissioner Todd Mielke – who was not present for Tuesday’s discussion -- was the least in favor of passing a helmet law when it was first presented, saying he didn’t want an ordinance “that will never be enforced.”
Similar concerns were expressed in the city of Spokane Valley five years ago when the issue was raised. At the time, Staci Schlerf – whose daughter died in a bicycle-car collision just a few weeks earlier – gave emotional testimony against a helmet law, saying “if the government always tells us what to do, we never learn anything.”
When the proposed law was brought before the county Planning Commission last month, there was vocal opposition. The commission was expected to deliberate on the issue more this week.