The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was approved 6-3 in the Senate Transportation Committee.
Thirty-one states allow riding without a helmet, Bell said.
Under his proposal, a person would be required to have $25,000 in additional medical coverage, a minimum two-year motorcycle license, have taken a motorcycle riding course, and be at least 25 years old.
The purchase of a $50 sticker to go on the helmet would also be required. Forty dollars of that would go to trauma centers.
Supporters have questioned the safety benefits of helmets and argued that ending the law would boost motorcycle tourism to Tennessee.
Opponents say not wearing a helmet will lead to more deaths and higher costs to trauma hospitals.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire testified before the committee and said his district has one of the top trauma hospitals in the state and that it would be among those affected if the proposal becomes law.
“Even with helmets on, there’s an enormous cost to the trauma centers that have to pay indigent care,” said the Chattanooga Republican, who wore a motorcycle helmet during his testimony. “And that’s just not fair.”
The measure is one of at least 22 bills Haslam has given so-called “philosophical flags,” stating that an administration representative will seek a meeting with the lawmaker for discussion.
Bell said after the vote that he’s received flag letters from the Republican governor before.
“I understand the governor doesn’t like the bill,” Bell said. “But this bill has passed the Senate at least on two prior occasions, and I expect it’s got a good chance to pass the Senate again.”
A similar proposal was withdrawn from the legislative process last year.
At the time, a legislative analysis of the measure projected that changing the law would lead to an increase in traumatic brain injuries, carrying a $1.1 million price tag for TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program.