Archive for Thursday, March 26, 2009

No seatbelt law equals no grant for Kansas

March 26, 2009

The state of Kansas is in danger of losing out on an $11.2 million grant if it doesn’t pass a primary seatbelt law soon.

The grant is through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which former president George W. Bush signed in 2005 and which will expire this year. To receive the grant, states must pass a primary seatbelt law for all ages by June 30.

The state of Kansas has a primary enforcement law for those under the age of 18 but a secondary law for anyone over 18. This means that police officers can’t pull somebody older than 18 over simply for not wearing a seatbelt. Senate bill 59, which would enforce a primary seatbelt law for all ages, was passed by the Senate in February, but secretary of KDOT Deb Miller said that, to date, it had failed to even be considered by the House Transportation Committee. She said this was bad news for the bill moving forward.

“If it isn’t heard in the House, it’s not going to move forward through the House,” Miller said. “We would have to find some other way (to get the bill passed).”

Passing the bill wouldn’t only result in the $11.2 million grant, which could be used in part on highway construction projects. It would also garner a $465,000 annual appropriation for the state of Kansas. But Miller said this appropriation and the grant money weren’t the sole reasons KDOT was pushing so hard to get Bill 59 passed.

“Our interest isn’t to get a one-time grant of $11.2 million,” Miller said. “Our interest here is in saving lives.”

She added that, with all the money KDOT puts into construction projects, she couldn’t see the logic behind not passing a free bill that is guaranteed to save lives.

“We get asked all the time to make highway improvements, and it costs us millions of dollars to the make the improvement that may save a life or prevent a disabling accident,” Miller said. “It doesn’t cost a dime to pass a seatbelt law which we know will save lives. I can’t see a single reason to not move forward with this legislation at this time.”

Kansas is one of 23 states in the Union that hasn’t passed such a bill. Miller said that if these states didn’t pass a primary seatbelt law by the cutoff date, the grant money would be distributed between those states that did.

“It’s going to go to some states, but if we don’t pass (the bill), it’s not going to come to us,” Miller said.

Bonner Springs chief of police John Haley, who supports having a primary seatbelt law, said it would be a mistake for the state of Kansas to pass up such an opportunity.

“It doesn’t make sense to not pass a primary law if it means missing out on $11 million in grant funding statewide,” Haley said.

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