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House says no to primary seat belts

published 5/8/2008
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An agreement designed to save lives and prevent injury did not receive House approval after more than an hour of sometimes emotional debate.

On a 72-62 vote, the House voted to return the committee report on HF3800*/SF3223 to the conference committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), the committee agreement contained a pair of provisions aimed at saving the lives of Minnesotans — mandatory seat belts and graduated driver’s licenses — but a booster seat requirement was reluctantly removed.

The centerpiece was making failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense. The proposal would also have required all vehicle occupants to be buckled up. Currently, people ages 11 and up can ride in a back seat unbuckled. A motorist must now be stopped for another offense to be issued a citation for failing to wear a seatbelt.

Those wanting to send back the report did so because of this provision. Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Mora) said the provision was forced on by the Senate, and House members could only "take it or leave it" without any hearings. Rep. A. Willie Dominguez (DFL-Mpls) warned it could help increase racial profiling, and others including Rep. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) said wearing a seatbelt should be a personal choice.

The report also called for graduated driver’s license restrictions, based on HF2628, sponsored by Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester).

In part, it requires that during the first six months of provisional licensure, a licensee could not operate a vehicle carrying more than one passenger under age 20 who is not a member of their immediate family. That increases to three passengers the following six months.

Other provisions in the conference committee report included:
• making it illegal to text message when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic;
• making sesquicentennial license plates available for purchase;
• a person who can document homelessness or eligibility for certain need-based relief that has their vehicle impounded could get back some essential contents under certain circumstances without paying for vehicle retrieval; and
• drivers would be required to move to a lane over when passing freeway service patrol, road maintenance and construction vehicles parked or stopped on roadway.

- Mike Cook


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