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Should police be able to stop a motorist for not wearing a seat belt or for texting? As a member of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, one afternoon this past week was spent discussing these issues. The current law requires all front seat motorists to wear seat belts. However, police can only ticket violators if they are stopped for some other reason. Both LB 10 and LB 189 would make a seat belt violation a primary offense and would require all passengers to be buckled up, not just front seat passengers. LB 189, introduced by Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff, also proposes to increase the fine for a seat belt violation from $25 to $100 and to assess 1 point to the driving record. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws. New Hampshire is the only state with no seat belt law for adults. Seat belt laws in the remainder of the states (including Nebraska) are secondarily enforced.
Currently, seat belt usage is approximately 79%. Based on experience in other states, testifiers projected that this statistic would increase to 90% if either LB 10 or LB 189 were passed into law. Proponents testified that primary seat belt laws save lives, reduce injuries, and lower crash costs to society.
Opponents feared that making a seat belt violation a primary offense could lead to racial profiling by police. Others questioned how far the government should intrude into personal decision-making.
Senator Harms also introduced LB 118, which would make texting a primary offense. Currently, reading, typing or sending a text message is against the law while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion, but a driver can only be charged if pulled over for a different traffic violation.
For years, Nebraskans have discussed the need for a comprehensive statewide plan to deal with water challenges facing the state, from severe drought to flooding, interstate compacts, and management of our underground water supplies. There have been studies and discussions, but no widespread solutions or agreement on funding sources.
This past week, the Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing on LB 517, which proposes to establish a Water Sustainability Project Task Force to work with the Department of Natural Resources. The task force would be charged with identifying water resources programs, projects and activities in need of funding in order to meet the long-term statewide goals of water sustainability, increased water use productivity, and maximizing the beneficial use of water resources. Experts would be hired to accomplish the objectives in LB 517, analyzing data gathered from past studies. The funding for the study would be sought from the oil and gas severance taxes the state collects, which currently are transferred to the permanent school fund. A report is to be submitted to the Legislature by January 31, 2014. LB 517 was introduced by Senator Tom Carlson, the chair of the Natural Resources Committee.
Senator Carlson also introduced another bill which will have a public hearing before the Revenue Committee on March 15. LB 516 would establish the Nebraska Water Legacy Commission and proposes to earmark one-fourth of one percent of sales tax revenue as a dedicated source of funding for new water projects, management and research, as identified by the recommendations for a comprehensive, multi-year plan developed as a result of the LB 517 study. With the passage of LB 84 last year to divert one-fourth of one percent of sales tax revenue for road projects, supporters claim that water is just as important as roads to our state. This bill will be held over until next year, giving senators and the public time to discuss whether this is an appropriate source of funds.
Again, I encourage your comments on the issues that are before the Legislature. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2733.