Sunday, May 16, 2010

Primary Seatbelt bill passes in the Kansas Legislature -- What does that mean for anti racial profiling efforts?

On Tuesday the 11th, the Kansas State Legislature voted to approve a new Primary Seatbelt Law that will that will go into effect on June 30th of this year. The new law will allow Officers to stop a vehicle and issue a citation to drivers if the driver or passengers are not wearing seat belts.

The Wichita NAACP has opposed the Primary Seat Belt bill for several years. Our opposition was driven by the fact that activists, legislators, and community organizations fought for a number of years to bring an end to the practice of Racial Profiling within the State. In 2006, the Kansas Racial Profiling bill was signed into law and in it were provisions to establish a uniform traffic ticket that could then be used to facilitate State wide racial profiling data collection. A 15 member task force, created by the legislation, was empaneled to develop strategies and recommendations for implementation by the end of 2006. But as of this moment, the 15 member panel, comprised mostly of Law Enforcement, has stalled the implementation of ANY Law Enforcement accountability measures. In fact, the only substantive change they've successfully championed to date has been to have the life of the Task Force extended beyond its originally envisioned end.

If the common sense accountability measures required by law since 2006 were actually implemented, we would have no objection to the Primary Seat belt bill.

We recognize that the Primary seat belt bill is a boon to public safety. And further, we realize that the $11,000,000.00 in Federal Funds the State receives as a result of the bills passage was a powerful motivating factor for Legislators. But we believed, and still believe, that the Police Department must submit to some measure of accountability when it comes to the disproportionate numbers of stops and searches of Black and Hispanic motorists throughout the State. The bill is the blueprint. The arguments have long since been fought and won. All that is left is for Law Enforcement to stop stalling and comply with the Law.

But in the absence of common sense accountability measures and protections from arbitrary, speculative, or purely subjective stops and searches, the Primary Seat Belt bill may well be used to camouflage the continuing practice of race-based profiling. Senator David Haley, one of the authors of the earliest version of the Racial Profiling Bill, described the passage of the Primary Seat Belt bill by saying, “Today, because of our need for public safety and more federal money, we overwhelmingly approve what might be another flimsy pretext for profiling.”

Interestingly enough, during this Legislative Session, the 15 member Racial Profiling Task Force placed a "moratorium" on any action concerning Racial Profiling. So we will now have to wait yet another year to fight once more to have Law Enforcement come into compliance with the law. But in the interim, they will have a new justification for those 'questionable' stops... "Sir, I pulled you over because I didn't observe you wearing your selt belt... now would you mind stepping out of the car?"

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