The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 19, 2013

Don't dismiss the primary seatbelt law in W.Va. as lost cause

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Don’t dismiss the primary seatbelt law in West Virginia as a forgotten cause in this legislative session.

Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, insisted Tuesday the matter isn’t a dead issue, albeit it has been assigned to the House calendar — generally viewed as the graveyard.

Active legislation is posted daily on what is designated as the “special calendar,” but Boggs pointed out that HB2108 could be added to that one any day before the gavel falls.

“We really don’t have a count from the D’s and R’s as to where everybody is at on the bill,” Boggs said after a brief floor session.

“We just want to see where everyone is at. It’s certainly not a leadership issue. There’s a lot of adversity in both parties. We’re just putting it there (House calendar) for the time being until we get a better count and decide what we need to do.”

Sponsored by Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, HB2108 barely survived the judiciary committee, by a 13-11 vote.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Boggs said. “I voted for the bill in committee. But it’s a decision for the entire Rules Committee to make and the entire body.”

Boggs said a number of groups are working in support of the legislation and the delay allows delegates to get in touch with their constituents.

“Sometimes, that’s a good thing when people can take a little bit of time and determine what the mood is back home on a particular bill,” he said.

West Virginia’s seatbelt law is now a secondary offense one, meaning a police officer must spot a moving violation before writing out a ticket for failure to buckle up.

Fleischauer’s bill would mean no other violation would have to occur. All violations of it would produce a standard $25 fine.

For three years, such a bill has been approved by the Senate, led by Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, only to see it not reach the House floor.

“Most states are going to that,” Boggs said of a primary offense statute.

“It allows you to bring in some additional federal money by passing it.”

Not only is the loss of federal dollars an incentive, but Palumbo has said such laws reduce fatalities and injuries, in turn, lessening the burden of medical expenses that often are borne by taxpayers.

Last year, in another highway safety move, the Legislature banned the use of texting while driving, and the same law contains a provision that, as of July 1, bans the use of handheld cell phones as a primary offense.

In the only measure acted on Tuesday, the House voted 97-0 to continue the enrollment of at-risk students in either public schools or private alternative ones, if a county superintendent approves and the troubled youngster meets six criteria, including the fees to prepare for the transition back into public education.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com