A proposal to tighten Nebraska’s seatbelt laws is drawing a noncommittal reaction from Gov. Dave Heineman and his newly appointed Director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.
Currently, Nebraska’s law requiring people to wear seat belts applies only to drivers, front seat passengers, children, and people riding in vehicles driven by someone with a provisional operators permit. And failing to wear a seatbelt is a secondary offense, meaning the driver is only subject to the $25 fine if he or she has committed some other offense.
But Omaha Sen. Bob Krist wants to change that with a bill he’s introduced. "The intent of the legislation is, it becomes a primary offense, obviously ticketed to the driver of the vehicle, and it’s for all occupants in the vehicle -- whether they’re in the front seat or the back seat -- to have restraining devices on," Krist said.
The lawmaker said he got the idea last spring, when he was stopped for speeding home from the Legislature. "I decided instead of paying the ticket that I would go to the diversion program. I don’t recommend that you speed, but I do recommend that everybody go through that diversion education program," he said.
"When we talked about being restrained in vehicles, looking at accidents that have happened, people who are unrestrained in the back seat, and the fact that it’s only a secondary offense, overwhelmingly I heard from the educators and from the law enforcement that this is the right way to go."
Asked about whether he favors tightening the seatbelt law, Gov. Dave Heineman declined to commit himself one way or the other. "First of all, I would hope every citizen would use a seatbelt. It clearly saves lives. We talk about that all the time," he said. "Whether it’s a primary or a secondary offense, we’ll listen to the debate and see whether a bill reaches my desk or not."
Heineman’s new Director of Motor Vehicles is Rhonda Lahm (pronounced LAMB), who is currently records manager for the State Patrol. Lahm said she hadn’t read the bill, so didn’t want to take a position one way or the other. "But I would echo what the governor said. Buckling up is the main message," she added.
The Governors Highway Safety Association says 32 states make not wearing a seatbelt a primary offense, 17 make it secondary, and New Hampshire’s law applies only to those under age 18.
Heineman, a Republican, was also asked about his ability to work with Sen. Health Mello, a registered Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. Mello, who has clashed with Heineman in the past, has been elected chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
"I expect to have a very good and very strong professional working relationship with Sen. Mello," Heineman said. "We’ve already talked a couple of times. We’re going to talk frequently in the future. The Legislature chooses its leaders and then I work with every one of them. So I look forward to the opportunity."
Heineman said the budget would be a focus of his State of the State speech on Tuesday, along with tax reform.
Another bill, introduced by Sen. Annette Dubas, of Fullerton promises to reopen debate over the use of eminent domain for pipelines like TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL, and other projects.
Dubas’s bill would specify eminent domain could be used to condemn property only after all agencies required to approve a project have done so. Under current Nebraska law, eminent domain can be used once the governor approves a pipeline project.
Dubas said her bill would require the federal government also approve the project before eminent domain could be used.