The Alaska House of Representatives approved a bill by a 21-18 margin Wednesday allowing law enforcement officers to pull over motorists in Alaska for seat belt violations.
Legislators had a lively debate Wednesday morning over the proposed law's effect on Alaskans' privacy and civil liberties versus its safety benefits.
The seat belt law, Senate Bill 87, was the first legislation to hit the House floor for debate since Monday's beginning of the 2006 session.
Rep. Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks, complained that the seat belt law, initiated by Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, is a sign of Alaska shifting into a "nanny state."
"I don't want to go down that road," Holm added. A major issue is that law enforcement officers could use the law as an excuse to "stop you for just any reason," Holm said.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said officers must have probable cause in order to make a traffic stop under the proposed law.
"You can't just pull people over randomly," Kerttula said.
Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said the law would save more lives and entitle the state to $3.7 million in new highway safety funds for which Alaska is now ineligible.
During the 2005 session, both the Senate and House approved the bill, but Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Eagle River, brought the House vote back. The 2005 session adjourned before the bill's reconsideration.
Dahlstrom asked Wednesday on the House floor how the state would enforce the law for taxicabs - if Alaskans would have to continue paying their taxi fare while a taxi is idling during a traffic stop - and if seat belts would have to be added to vehicles that lacked them.
There is no penalty to Alaska for not having the law, Dahlstrom added. She voted against the bill.
An amended version of Senate Bill 87 now goes back to the Senate, which will have to agree to the House's changes.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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