CLT Update
Thursday, June 21, 2001

Freedom wins again
as "primary enforcement" is defeated

Thank you state Representative Jim Fagan (D-Taunton)!

Thank you state Representative Fran Marini (R-Hanson)!

A month or so ago I appeared as a guest on Emily Rooney's WGBH-TV2 evening talk program, "Greater Boston," on the topic of the upcoming push for primary enforcement of the mandatory seat belt law. My fellow guests were state police Captain Robert Bird and, at my suggestion, Rep. Fagan.

Before taping the program, I was talking with Rep. Fagan and congratulated him for virtually single-handedly filibustering last year's attempt to death in the final days of the legislative session. He told me that he didn't hold out much hope of being able to defeat it again this year, as it was being brought up too early in the session and "even I can't talk that long."

But that didn't stop him from trying!

His unyielding effort, and that of Republican Minority Leader Fran Marini, provided us with the 76-76 tie vote on May 29 and defeat yesterday of the effort to do what we were promised would never be done: Incrementally creeping to primary enforcement of the law.

But on May 29, the defeated sponsors called for a reconsideration vote ... and the arm-twisting began. With the support of House Speaker Tom Finneran, the reconsideration vote was rescheduled, in fact a formal session of the House for last Monday was postponed at the last minute. Apparently they didn't have the votes for reconsideration and were waiting until they did.

Which is why yesterday's result is so surprising.

Rep. Marini, in a report in yesterday's Boston Herald [below], pulled out the stops in an effort to defeat the reconsideration vote, and it apparently succeeded ... even despite yesterday's Boston Globe editorial supporting primary enforcement. But, even the Globe couldn't avoid the charge of creeping incrementalism:

"In spite of low compliance, Massachusetts regularly ranks among the states with the lowest numbers of fatalities per miles driven, but even more lives -- an estimated 75 to 100 a year -- could be saved if there were 'primary enforcement' of the seat belt law and usage were 100 percent."

There it is again, folks ... "even more." More Is Never Enough, and never will be until they have it all.

But, thanks to yesterday's inaction in the House, they don't have it all, yet.

I also suspect that last week's Boston Herald report linking Speaker Finneran's law firm with a number of insurance companies cemented the "no" votes and caused at least a few supporters to waiver ... especially after the acknowledged pursuit by the insurance lobby for a "contributory negligence" defense:

"With a primary-enforcement seat-belt law on the books, insurance company lawyers could argue that victims who weren't buckled up were guilty of "contributory negligence," [Richard Underwood, a lobbyist for Commerce Insurance] said.

"'Your recovery (of money) can be reduced to the extent that you're at fault,' he said."

Freedom won out again yesterday in the state Legislature and is secure at least until the 2003 session. That's always a reason for celebration!

Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Thursday, June 21, 2001

Lawmakers turn back new seat belt bill
by Ellen J. Silberman

Lawmakers yesterday rejected a tough new seat belt law, preventing police from stopping motorists who  they suspect aren't buckled up.

The controversial bill died quietly when House supporters gave up on a plan to use a parliamentary maneuver to revive it.

The "primary enforcement" bill would toughen the state's 7-year-old mandatory seat belt law by allowing police to stop cars simply to check whether motorists are buckled up.

Officers can still cite motorists for failing to wear seat belts if they stop the vehicle for another reason.

Supporters say the tougher measure would have decreased auto deaths and injuries by getting more people to wear seat belts.

Opponents say the broader law would have allowed police to harass law-abiding motorists. Many opponents worry that cops would target minorities for the stops.

Reconsideration died yesterday on a quick voice vote. Legislative rules prohibit another vote on the bill until at least 2003.

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Marini faults effort to widen seat belt law
By Rick Klein
Globe Staff

House Minority Leader Francis L. Marini is imploring his Republican colleagues to buck Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's leadership today when it tries to revive a bill that would give police broader range to pull over drivers who don't wear seat belts.

The bill failed in the House on May 29, in a rare tie vote. But supporters of the measure, which would give police the ability to stop drivers whose only apparent infraction is not wearing seat belts, hope to have the matter reconsidered today.

That motion would require a simple majority, meaning that the shift of a single vote could reopen the House debate on the issue and ultimately change the result. Marini said he is asking his fellow Republicans to vote against reconsideration regardless of how they voted on the original bill.

"What we did last time was a demonstration of democracy in action," Marini said, recounting the five-hour debate on the House floor. "Any attempt to change that would be a demonstration of the speaker's power."

Advocates called the seat belt bill a crucial public safety issue, but critics railed against it because of the possibility that rogue police officers would use it to harass drivers. The Senate approved the bill April 10.

Marini said several Republicans would probably vote in favor of reconsideration despite his pleas, but he expressed hope that the move would go down.

"I don't think it's a good thing to reconsider the bill, and I don't think it's necessary," Marini said.

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