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House repeals primary seatbelt law

Published (5/20/2011)
By Hank Long
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Sharon Pearson, right, tells reporters May 17 that her daughter Bethany, left, would not be alive if she had not been wearing her seatbelt when her car was T-boned by a truck. The news conference was held in response to the House’s vote to repeal the primary seatbelt law as part of the omnibus judiciary policy bill passage the previous night. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)The House adopted an amendment to an omnibus judiciary policy bill May 16 that would repeal the state’s primary seatbelt law.

Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), who opposed the legislation when it was passed in 2009, sponsored the repeal, which the House approved 75-55. The omnibus judiciary policy bill, HF1023, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound), was then passed as amended 105-25. It awaits action by the full Senate. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) is the Senate sponsor.

The primary seatbelt law is “totally unnecessary and is more of a revenue raiser than a safety issue,” Rukavina said. A repeal would return seatbelt violations to being a secondary offense.

Those who spoke in opposition included Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), who sponsored the 2009 law.

“Minnesota spent 20 years getting the primary seatbelt law passed,” Norton said, adding that over the last two years, compliance has increased and deaths have decreased. “The seatbelt bill has worked, and certainly I hope we don’t take a step backwards.”

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) argued that repealing the law would result in a significant loss of revenue to the Department of Public Safety and access to federal highway funds tied to the state having such a law.

Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) said House members shouldn’t reject the Rukavina amendment just because the primary seatbelt law is tied to federal highway funding.

“How long are we going to sit here and let the federal government hold us hostage?” he asked.

In addition to repealing the primary seatbelt law, HF1023 would make various changes related to the judiciary, including: clarifying placement of vehicle license plates; establishing an administrative dismissal process for submitting proof of insurance in failure to provide vehicle insurance cases; clarifying certain fees and surcharges; streamlining notary provisions and certain lien filing and record procedures; modifying service provisions in order for protection dismissals; amending record retention provisions for probate records; clarifying guardian ad litem expenses; amending spousal maintenance calculations; authorizing the court to issue protective orders for “Safe at Home” participants in legal proceedings; and modifying standards for opening juvenile delinquency proceedings.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would require registered vehicles to only have one license plate on the rear bumper.

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