Archive for Thursday, November 16, 2000

Lawmakers revive debate on seat belts

Tougher law being drafted

November 16, 2000

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— It looks like lawmakers next year will have another chance to debate whether Kansas should have a tougher seat belt law. But some say chances of changing the law are doubtful.

The Special Committee on Judiciary agreed Wednesday to recommend drafting legislation for next year making failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense, meaning a driver could be stopped simply for not being buckled up.

"They can stop a car for not having a tail light, which hasn't cost one life, but we can't stop them for not having a seat belt."

Rep. David Huff, R-Lenexa

The law now says a driver can be cited for not wearing a seat belt only when stopped for speeding or another offense.

House Judiciary Chairman Mike O'Neal, who heads the special committee, cast doubts on whether the legislation has much chance of passage. Lawmakers defeated two similar proposals earlier this year.

"I don't think there's going to be a primary seat belt law. It's still going to be personal choice," O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, told the committee.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Tim Emert, R-Independence, special committee member, agreed that passing such legislation "will be very difficult."

Supporters of a stronger law say it would save more lives. Opponents say it's an example of government intrusion.

"There are more than 100 reasons for law enforcement to stop a car. They can stop a car for not having a tail light, which hasn't cost one life, but we can't stop them for not having a seat belt," said Rep. David Huff, R-Lenexa.

The committee considered the issue at the request of Gov. Bill Graves, who included the seat belt proposal in his package for the 2000 session.

Graves spokesman Don Brown said Wednesday the governor remains optimistic that the law can be made tougher after the Legislature convenes Jan. 8.

He said Graves is "strongly considering" including the legislation in his package that he will offer lawmakers, many of whom were elected for the first time on Nov. 7.

"We've got a new makeup in the House and Senate, and the governor would like to start fresh with the issue," Brown said.

The law now says all drivers and front-seat passengers older than 14 are required to buckle up. For drivers and passengers over 14, the fine for not wearing a seat belt is $10.

A separate law covers children and requires those under 4 to ride in safety seats and those between 4 and 14 to wear seat belts.

During the summer, the committee conducted hearings on the issue. At the time, the committee was told that making the law stronger also could triple the amount of federal money the state receives for increasing seat belt use.

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