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Rep. Wood explains failure of seat belt fee increase legislation

Rep. Wood explains failure of seat belt fee increase legislation

Dustin Hurst
April 16, 2010
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April 16, 2010

Adult drivers Idaho pay the lowest fine in the country for not wearing their seat belts on the road.  Because of Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, drivers will continue to pay the low rate, $10, for at least another year.

Wood said the bill to increase the total cost of receiving a seat belt ticket to $51.50, sponsored by Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenn Ferry, distributed the additional fees into too many areas for her to be comfortable with the measure.  As the chair of the House Transportation and Defense Committee, Wood had the privilege to kill the bill without a committee hearing, an ability she used to with Wills’ plan.

The measure did receive one hearing, to introduce the plan to lawmakers, before it was assigned to Wood’s committee.  At the initial hearing on the measure before the House Ways and Means Committee, Wills said the new fee formula is “unlike any the courts have seen before.”  The plan would have added a total of $41.50 to the $10 violators already pay for the ticket.  The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) would have received $5 for advertising programs to encourage voluntarily seat belt usage, $10 would have gone to fund courts, and $26.50 would have gone into the catastrophic fund.  That fund is utilized to offset the costs of medical expenses incurred by citizens who cannot pay for their own medical care.

Wills said that in 2009, Idaho drivers were ticketed more than 17,000 times for not wearing seat belts and paid no court costs in association with violations.  If the rate of violations stays steady from year to year, Wills’ plan could generate approximately $705,000.  ITD disagreed with that number, saying approximately 25,000 seat belt tickets are processed each year.  If the ITD number is correct, Wills’ plan could bring in more than $1,037,000 in new revenue.

According to ITD’s Molly McCarty, the seat belt violation is the only infraction in the state that does not charge court costs in conjunction with the fine assessed, but that only applies to adults.  Minors in Idaho are charged the $41.50 court costs fee, as well as the $10 fine for the ticket.

Wood said that the idea, though on hold for another year, is not completely dead to her.  She said that if a new proposal is put in place in the future, she would like dollars generated to go to local county justice funds, as well as the catastrophic fund.  Under her plan, ITD would not receive any new revenue.  She did not say if she plans to pitch the fee increase bill during the next legislative session.

Jeff Stratten, with ITD, said that his department will work to find a new proposal for seat belt violators, though he made no guarantees that it would find a suitable measure for Wood and fellows lawmakers.

"At this point I don’t know if we will have a proposal on safety restraints," said Stratten.  He added that if the department does pursue a new policy, the development process could take several months.

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