S.C. Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Myrtle Beach’s Helmet Law Invalid

Courtesy of The Sun News:

The S.C. Supreme Court today unanimously ruled Myrtle Beach’s motorcycle helmet law is invalid because it is superseded by state law.

But also, the court said it found the city impliedly repealed the law itself when it repealed its own administrative court ordinance after the court’s chief justices opined that was unconstitutional.

The decision was posted moments ago on the court’s website.

The court ruled that all the ordinances — 2008-61-67 — were affected by the repeal of the administrative court hearing, but since 61 and 65, the rules about parking trailers on city streets and partying in parking lots, were made into misdemeanors, those are not invalidated.

2008-62, 63, 64 and 66, however, appear to be invalid along with the helmet law, said city attorney Tom Ellenburg.

He said the helmet law’s repeal takes effect immediately, and he will issue an order that the municipal court dismiss all pending helmet tickets, that all records be expunged for those who have received tickets and paid fines, and that all fines paid be returned to the people who paid them.

Myrtle Beach passed the helmet law in 2008 as part of a package of ordinances designed to gain control over the May motorcycle rallies, which had drawn about 500,000 people to the area in peak years.

The helmet law has been by far the most controversial ordinance the city passed, and generated lawsuits by people who said the law cannot stand because it supersedes state law.

The state law says people younger than 21 must wear helmets, but has no such requirement for people older than 21.

The city’s goal was to push the rallies outside city limits after years of listening to residents complain about noise, trash and lewd behavior on city streets.

Last year, the rallies’ attendance was far below peak years, though rally organizers have acknowledged that attendance was slowly declining anyway.

In its ruling, the court invalidates the city’s helmet law, and said there is a need for statewide uniformity in the rules on helmets and eyewear.

"Local authorities might enact ordinances imposing additional and even conflicting equipment requirements. Such burdens would unduly limit a citizen’s freedom of movement throughout the state," the court wrote.

The Myrtle Beach City Council is philosophical about the loss.

"It’s not going to change much," Mayor John Rhodes said. "We’ve already made it clear we don’t support rallies and won’t support rallies. We’re very pleased that we had very few accidents and no deaths within the city this year during the rallies, and our residents were able to sleep and teachers were able to teach.

"And the bikers who did stay in the city and patronize our businesses respected our laws, our residents and our business community," he said. "That’s all we’ve ever asked."

Councilman Phil Render said the city’s primary responsibility is to protect residents and visitors.

"I take comfort in the fact that we had no motorcycle fatalities in Myrtle Beach in the last two years while our ordinance was in place," he said.


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