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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Valley votes against helmet ordinance

Following spirited debate Tuesday that evoked public safety, parental responsibility and even the role of government, the Spokane Valley City Council voted down a proposed ordinance that would require young bicyclists to wear helmets.

“This is just an ordinance or a law that (the police) aren’t going to enforce on a regular basis,” said City Councilman Mike DeVleming. “They don’t have the resources.”

Joining him in opposing the measure were councilmen Rich Munson and Steve Taylor, and Mayor Diana Wilhite.

Councilmen Dick Denenny, Mike Flanigan and Gary Schimmels voted for an amended version of the ordinance that would have required children between 5 and 16 years old to wear helmets when riding bicycles, skates and nonmotorized scooters.

The outcome pleased Staci Schlerf, whose daughter died after colliding with an SUV last month while riding her bike.

“I don’t feel like it’s the government’s responsibility to take care of us in those kinds of aspects,” Schlerf said after the vote.

Schlerf testified Tuesday night in her second appearance before the council on the helmet law.

The ordinance, which originally required helmets for all Valley riders, prompted more e-mails and visits to the mayor’s office than any proposal since the council suggested changes to the way the Valley library was run, Wilhite said. She said comments she received came in three to one against the law.

At the meeting, seven people spoke in favor of the measure and five spoke against it.

“The very best education you can do for a child is to have an adult bear witness to the behavior,” Margaret Mortz said in her testimony supporting the law for all ages.

“While we do all have personal freedoms in this country, laws are passed sometimes to protect us from ourselves,” said Peggy Hodges, of the Spokane County Traffic Safety Commission.

Supporters cited the societal costs of disability and medical care caused by head injuries and said the law would increase helmet usage.

Others felt a helmet law would go too far.

“I’m concerned with the Police Department becoming the babysitting department,” Karen Hansen testified.

“I don’t think that I need to be a role model for other people’s children,” she said.

Council members said there is a need for more education, possibly assisted by the city, to promote helmet use. But some said enforcing the ordinance would be impractical.

Denenny and Schimmels likened helmet ordinances to seatbelt use, saying it could lead to positive changes in behavior.

Having a law on the books would simply give parents another “arrow in their quiver” when persuading children to wear helmets, Denenny said.

At Tuesday’s meeting the council also unanimously approved a resolution that would enact initiative and referendum rights in the Valley.

Initiatives give citizens the option to gather enough signatures to propose laws and place certain types of ordinances on the ballot if the council does not enact them. Referendums allow a similar means to repeal legislation passed by the council. Both exist on the state level and in the city of Spokane.

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