In his remarks welcoming the Kansas Legislature back to work last week, Gov. Mark Parkinson reminded lawmakers of a common-sense measure that still is awaiting legislative approval: passage of a primary seat belt law.
There are two strong benefits from the law Parkinson recommended in his State of the State address. It not only would strengthen seat belt enforcement in the state, it also would add $11 million in much-needed federal funds to state coffers. About $1 million of that would be reserved for highway projects, but the other $10 million could go into the state general fund to help offset the $500 million budget shortfall.
Kansas motorists already are required to wear seat belts, but officers can only enforce that law as a secondary offense meaning drivers can only be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt if they are pulled over for some other infraction. Passing a primary seat belt law would allow officers to pull over and ticket drivers simply because they are not wearing a seat belt.
Although it’s a relatively minor change that already has been passed by the Kansas Senate, the measure is hung up in the Kansas House Transportation Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Gary Hayzlett, reportedly isn’t allowing it to move forward. The roadblock Hayzlett, a Republican from Lakin, is creating is particularly odd because the $11 million in federal revenue that would result from the seat belt law is included in the “no-tax” budget proposals put forth by the House leadership. It seems House Speaker Mike O’Neal would be able to exercise the necessary influence to get this bill out of committee and onto the House floor.
The state’s current negotiations will require many difficult choices. The primary seat belt law is not one of them. It provides additional incentive for Kansans to wear their seat belts and brings the state $11 million in new revenue. House leaders need to break the logjam and get this bill moving to the governor’s desk.