A bill to raise the penalty for not wearing a seat belt in Tennessee was approved by a Senate committee Tuesday only to be shot down two hours later in a House committee.
Proponents of the bill (SB487) contended that raising the fine from $10 to $50 would motivate more motorists to buckle up and thus reduce fatalities and injuries in traffic accidents.
A recent survey indicated that Tennessee seat belt useage fell from 87 percent to 83 percent last year, according to Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott.
But some legislator critics questioned that proposition. Others said the measure appeared aimed more at collecting revenue than safety. And Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, said he disliked the whole idea of government using fines to prod people into changing behavior in the interest of their personal safety.
“We’re all grown men and women. It not up to the state to protect us from our folly. It up to us,” said Henry.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt by $40 is advancing in the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro narrowly passed the Senate Transportation Committee 5-4 on Wednesday. The companion bill was to be heard in the House Transportation Subcommittee later in the day.
Currently the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is $10. Under this proposal, the fine would be $50.
Ketron said the measure is simply to encourage people to buckle up.
However, Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains said “these are hard times” and people shouldn’t be fined if they don’t want to wear a seat belt.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has officially voiced opposition to 22 bills pending in the Legislature, including measures revising the state’s motorcycle helmet law, allowing school faculty and staff to carry guns and increasing the penalty for motorists not wearing a seat belt.
The governor this year is not issuing formal “flag letters” to legislators except when there are “philosophical” objections to the measure, according to gubernatorial spokesman David Smith.
In the past, Haslam also issued “fiscal flags” against bills that called for what the governor deemed inappropriate state spending. But this year, Smith said the administration policy is to caution against any legislation that has a “fiscal note,” prepared by legislative staff, projecting a need for spending that is not part of Haslam’s budget proposal for the coming year.
“Basically, any bill with a fiscal note with at least $1 of impact on the state budget would get a fiscal flag since it’s not accounted for in the budget proposal (under prior practice),” Smith wrote in an email. “So we stopped issuing a letter because between our office issuing a letter and a non-administration bill having a fiscal note we found those efforts duplicative.”
In response to a News Sentinel request, the governor’s office provided copies of all “philosophical flag” letters that have been sent to legislators this year as of Friday. The form letters, signed by Leslie Hafner, the governor’s chief legislative liaison, do not explain reasons for opposition, but state that an administration representative will seek a meeting with the lawmaker for discussion.
“The administration understands this is an important issue to you and is cognizant of your efforts. The administration, however, respectfully disagrees with this legislation in its current form,” says a standard line in most of the letters.
Here is a list of the bills questioned by Haslam: