The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 27, 2013

Seatbelt showdown coming Thursday

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Five years in the making, with many script changes along for the ride, the primary seatbelt law proposal has gotten a new lease on life in the House of Delegates.

In a change of heart, the House leadership has put the measure on its special, or active, calendar, and it is at the amendment stage today, with a showdown coming Thursday.

The intent is to make failure to buckle up a primary offense, meaning a police officer could issue a citation for that and that alone.

Existing law makes it a secondary offense, requiring a traffic cop to find some other moving violation before writing a ticket for not using a seatbelt.

“We’re getting down real close for the House bills,” Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said Tuesday.

“We wanted to let people know that we wanted to get it out and get some feel. Once it’s on the special calendar, I think you have a better opportunity to really gauge and get people’s reaction, whether they’re going to be for it or against it.”

Until the scoreboard lights up Thursday, the House floor leader said he has no idea how the bill, sponsored solely by Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, will fare.

“I think there’s enough swing votes to take it either way,” he said.

Nor was Boggs able to say if any amendments would be offered, but as of Tuesday, none had been mentioned.

“I’m just looking forward to trying to have a final vote on it,” he said.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of parties talking to others about what they feel like should be the final outcome.”

Over the past four sessions, the primary law has easily cleared the Senate, only to die in the House, so this time around, the chief sponsor, Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said he decided to let the House tackle it first.

Palumbo was disappointed only a week ago when the bill was placed on the regular House calendar, considered the graveyard for bills.

“I’m certainly encouraged that it got moved to the special calendar,” he said.

“Hopefully, it will stay there and hopefully it will pass.”

Palumbo says the use of seatbelts not only saves lives but lessens the costs of medical attention and insurance by reducing injuries and deaths in motor vehicle accidents.

“I understand there is sufficient support for it to pass, but I don’t think it’s overwhelming support,” the judiciary chairman said.

“I’m encouraged it has made it as far as it has.”