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Injury fund fees shifted to all drivers

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INDIANAPOLIS — State Senators gave a boost Wednesday to efforts to put Indiana at the forefront of medical research to treat patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.

Senators approved a plan to keep the research funding flowing while also replacing a controversial fee that motorcycle owners had complained was unfair.

By a vote of 47-0, the Senate approved the plan, House Bill 1318.

Last year, the Legislature created the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Fund to provide grants for Hoosier medical researchers to treat such patients. The fund had collected $713,110 as of Friday through a $10 surcharge on all motorcycle registrations.

Motorcyclists, though, expressed frustration that they must pay the additional fee — bringing their total registration cost to $27 — when owners of other vehicles do not. At several hearings this year, bike enthusiasts testified and asked lawmakers to change the funding.

Instead of a $10 fee on motorcycles only, House Bill 1318 would charge a 30 cent fee on all passenger vehicle registrations.

“It won’t result in a lot more funding,” said the bill sponsor, Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. She estimated the change will generate an additional $30,000 a year for the research fund over current levels, noting it would make the state eligible to leverage federal dollars.

“I think it’s a more fair and equitable way of going about it,” said Greg Bedan, a paralyzed Indianapolis man who uses a wheelchair and lobbied at the Statehouse for the bill. “It’s not just in motorcycle accidents where people suffer these debilitating injuries; the majority of them are auto related,” Bedan said.

Bedan suffered a football injury to his spinal cord as a teenager in 1976. The biggest change since then has been the difference in attitude among medical researchers, he said.

“When I got hurt, the hope was you were going to get something back (and regain function) through Rehabilitation and treatment. They did the most up-to-date treatment they could on me,” Bedan said. “But now the doctors look at it as, ‘This is not a lifelong sentence.’ That (attitude change) means more than dollars … and doctors are saying, ‘You know what? We can fix this.'”

Becker told fellow senators that there will be greater demand for such research with wounded American military personnel coming back from the Iraq war. She said an estimated 155,000 Hoosiers live with some form of traumatic brain injury, with 10,000 new cases expected each year.

“This at least keeps the military injuries and also the civilian injuries on the radar scope. Plus, it’s an economic-development issue, a veterans issue, a life sciences issue,” Bedan said.

Both advocates for the disabled and motorcyclist groups, such as American Bikers Aimed Toward Education or ABATE, had testified in favor of the bill. House Bill 1318 now goes back to the House for further action.

Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
© 2007 The E.W. Scripps Co.

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