Motorcyclists could ride without a helmet if they buy an annual state permit under legislation approved Thursday by a divided Michigan Senate.
Senators changed the bill to designate more revenue from permit fees to law enforcement, so it heads back to the House, which approved a similar version last week.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm ultimately could veto the bill, though, because she supports an existing law that requires motorcyclists to wear a helmet.
After passionate debate, the Republican-led Senate voted 23-15 to pass the bill.
"There are risks to everything we do in life," said Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor, arguing that motorcyclists deserve the freedom and choice to go helmetless.
Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, responded: "Helmets protect your head. Without a helmet, both injuries and fatalities will increase."
George, a doctor, tried unsuccessfully to tie the bill to a measure requiring motorcyclists to have personal injury protection insurance under Michigan's auto no-fault law.
The legislation would allow riders to pay a $100 annual state permit fee to allow them to opt out of wearing a helmet. Bikers also could pay $200 for three years.
Motorcyclists also would have to be at least 21 years old, have two years experience and complete safety training.
Riding helmetless without a permit would result in a $300 fine.
Granholm, a Democrat, vetoed legislation last year that would have let motorcyclists go without a helmet.
Twelve Republicans and 11 Democrats voted for the bill Thursday. Nine Republicans and six Democrats opposed it.