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New research fee upsets Indiana motorcyclists

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20070621bSome motorcycle owners are upset that they have been singled out to pay an extra $10 registration fee to fund new efforts to track and research spinal cord and brain injuries — and Gov. Mitch Daniels says their anger is justified.

The General Assembly tucked the base fee increase — from $17 to $27 — into the 253-page budget bill and created a board to oversee the proceeds. The Legislative Services Agency estimates it will generate about $1.6 million annually.

“Indiana will be moving to the forefront in the effort to improve the lives of those who have suffered from spinal cord and head injuries,” Rep. Carolene Mays, D-Indianapolis, who pushed the proposal, said in a statement.

But many motorcyclists are angry about the fee increase, said Jay Jackson, executive director of ABATE of Indiana, a group that advocates motorcycling and bike safety.

“We have nothing against medical research,” Jackson said. “But we don’t want to be the ones who are responsible for funding it solely. If it was a fair tax we would take our lumps like everybody else.”

A bill Mays introduced would have increased court fees for traffic violations and directed that revenue to the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Fund. The bill was later amended to increase the fee on motorcycles, and that language was put into the House version of the budget bill.
Opponents complained about the fee and it and the fund was removed from the budget in the Senate. But the motorcycle fee was restored during the session’s final days and approved, Jackson said.

Daniels, a motorcyclist himself, signed the budget bill but said bikers had reasons to be upset about the fee increase.
“One is process,” he said Wednesday. “Nobody even knew this was buried in the budget. I didn’t. They didn’t. They thought it had been removed and somebody slipped it in there in the late stages.

“Second, on the substance, when I learned about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said. “The money is going to spinal injury research and I’m not against that, but motorcycle accidents cause less than 1 percent of those injuries. So it seems a little unfair to hit that particular segment of society to pay for that particular purpose.”

According to information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1995 and 2003 — on average — at least 5,000 motorcyclists each year were hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury.

Mays said about 160,000 Indiana residents suffer from spinal cord or brain injuries, and the revenue will lead to new research on those conditions and enable the state to pursue a share of $50 million in federal research funding for the injuries.

The law gives the new nine-member board the authority to use the money for grants for spinal cord and brain injury research and programs and establish a surveillance registry to track those injuries in Indiana. The Indiana State Department of Health will staff the board and implement the registry.

Mays said she chose to fund the program using motorcycle fees “because there is a proven link between motorcycle accidents and traumatic spinal cord and head injuries.”

But Jackson said accidents involving other Motor vehicles cause more of these injuries than motorcycles.
“We are not the large or leading cause of this condition,” he said.

Motorcycle owners can renew their plates early any time during the same registration year cycle, which runs from the end of January through October.

Because of that, Jackson said ABATE is encouraging motorcyclists to renew their plates before July 1 to avoid the fee increase this year. He said about 160,000 motorcycles are registered in Indiana and about 30,000 members of ABATE of Indiana.

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