Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Kansas Legislature defeats the Primary Seat Belt law

Reprinted from the Wichita Eagle
by Dion Lefler; Wichita Eagle Topeka bureau

Turning away from a potential $13.2 million in federal transportation funds, the state House of Representatives on Tuesday halted a bill to toughen the seat belt law.

On a 62-57 vote, the lawmakers rejected a procedural motion that would have pulled House Bill 2130 out of a conference committee where it has stalled and brought the measure to the floor for an up-or-down vote. The motion required 63 votes to pass.

"It's dead for the year," said a disappointed Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who made the motion.

The bill would have made not wearing a seat belt a "primary violation," meaning that police could pull over a motorist for that violation alone.Now, seat belt violations are "secondary," meaning that police can ticket unbelted motorists only if they are first stopped for another infraction.

Under the bill, a seat belt infraction would have been punished with a $60 fine but would not have counted as a moving violation on driving records. Colloton said supporters thought they had 67 votes, but some who would have voted for the bill itself might not have been comfortable with pulling it away from the committee process.

The Wichita Branch NAACP would like to thank the members of the Legislature for being responsive to the concerns of the community and defeating HB2130. Particularly, we'd like to thank Representatives Melody McCray Miller, Brenda Landweir, and Jim Ward.

We as a branch spoke out in opposition to HB2130 (The Primary Seatbelt bill) because while we understood that the bill contained funding that is sorely needed in these difficult economic times, it is clear to us that the bill would have negatively and disproportionally affected under-served, minority, and economically depressed communities.

In 2005 the Kansas State Legislature enacted a bill that prohibited Racial Profiling by law enforcement. The intent of that bill was to eliminate the practice of using minor traffic infractions as pretexts to stop and search otherwise blameless individuals. In the current legislative session, the Racial Profiling Task Force recommended a new and greatly tightened definition of Racial Profiling that would have further clarified and elucidated that intent. However HB2130 would have further blurred the line by creating a whole new category of minor infractions that could be used to justify the very stops the Legislature previously deemed unlawful.

It has been documented in several recent studies (some conducted here in Kansas)that Black and Latino drivers are disproportionately stopped for minor traffic infractions such as the making of a wide turn, or the failure to signal a turn 100’ from the corner. Kansas acted affirmatively to put an end to these onerous disparities through the passage of the Kansas Racial Profiling bill in 2005 and the commission of a state wide Racial Profiling Task Force. The goal of these efforts was not to eliminate ticketing for violations of traffic rules, but rather to ensure that personal biases and suspicions did not influence the decisions of who would be subjected to police investigatory activities. HB2130 would have created a new loophole through which those biases and suspicions could have continued to operate.

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