No helmet law for now

Posted: Friday, July 09, 2004

Kids on bikes, rollerblades and other wheeled vehicles will not be required by the city of Kenai to wear helmets for now despite overwhelming belief by city council members that helmet use is vital to keeping people safe.

The council voted 6-1 Wednesday night against a proposed helmet ordinance that would have required anyone under the age of 16 to wear a helmet while on any kind of wheeled apparatus within the city limits. The proposed ordinance also was amended to include anyone under the age of 16 ice skating at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility.

Despite the fact that the law was voted down, council members indicated they would favor some form of resolution strongly supporting the use of helmets within the city.

"I'm willing to go with the idea of a resolution for at least a year or two," council member Pat Porter said.

The idea of passing a resolution in support of helmet use was brought up by council member Rick Ross, who said an ordinance would be less effective because the city would be unable to enforce such a broad law.

"We do not have the means or intent to do a rigorous enforcement program," Ross said.

Other members of the council disagreed, saying a helmet law would not necessarily need to be rigorously enforced to have the desired effect. Mayor John Williams pointed out that simply checking up on helmet use from time to time would greatly increase their use.

"We can sure make an attempt at it," he said.

A number of members of the public testified on the proposed ordinance, with the majority voicing support for the new law. One of those was Central Peninsula General Hospital nurse Jane Fellman. Fellman, who is also a member of the Safe Kids Coalition, told the council that she believes a helmet law could greatly reduce the risk of head injuries or death within the city.

"The single most effective safety device available to reduce the risk of injury is a helmet," Fellman said.

Fellman said helmet use in the city is going up among young people, but pointed out that a young bicyclist was recently killed in Kenai while not wearing a helmet.

"We all certainly know it took one tragedy to make us stop and think we need to do more," she said.

The only person to speak against the helmet ordinance was Tim Navarre, who said the council should spend its time working on public awareness campaigns rather than creating new laws.

"Get more involvement in the public awareness before you tell parents you're going to enforce the law," Navarre told the council.

The ordinance the council finally voted on was somewhat different from the original one introduced three weeks ago. That's because council member Rick Ross added an amendment that would have required helmets at the city's multipurpose ice facility as well.

Ross said the amendment was a way to ensure all kids not just those on bikes and rollerblades would be protected.

"If we're going to have it ... let's have an ordinance that protects the kids," he said.

Before the ordinance was amended, it appeared as if the vote would be a close one on the helmet law, with council members Linda Swarner, Joe Moore and Mayor Williams voicing support for the ordinance; Jim Bookey, Blaine Gilman and Rick Ross speaking against it; and Pat Porter saying she might support it.

However, after it was amended, the council voted overwhelmingly against the measure, with only Swarner continuing to support it.

Despite its rejection, the ordinance is not dead. Council member Joe Moore said he'd like the council to vote to reconsider at a later date. The council also directed the city administration to prepare a resolution supporting helmet use for the council to consider at its Aug. 4 meeting.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

Added a part-time code enforcement officer a position that was cut when the city was forced to slash spending two years ago. The new code enforcement officer will work between 15 and 20 hours per week and will mainly respond to complaints.

Amended city code to change allowable absences from city commissions and committees from six to three. The change was needed because commissions and committees have returned to the monthly meeting schedules in use before the budget was cut.

Increased revenues by $103,060 to include a federal Homeland Security grant received by the Kenai Police Department.

Awarded an $11,338.32 bid to Russ's Construction for the gym floor repair-refinishing job at the Kenai Recreation Center.

Awarded a $76,105 contract to Terex Utilities West for an F550 extended cab 4X4 bucket truck.

Passed a resolution in support of the development of an assisted living facility in the city of Kenai.

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