Seat belt law faces uncertain future at Statehouse

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(Host) An effort to pass a primary enforcement seat belt law faces a very uncertain future at the Statehouse.

The House passed the measure last week but the head of the Senate Transportation committee says his panel doesn’t have time to consider the legislation this year.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) What does a primary enforcement seat belt bill have in common with a new plan to tax radioactive wastes at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant?

It turns out both bills are being viewed as sources of money to fund public transportation programs in Vermont.

The federal government is offering a one-time grant of nearly $4 million to the state of Vermont if lawmakers pass a primary enforcement law. Currently, the state has a secondary enforcement law, which means that a police officer must have another reason to stop a driver in order to enforce the seat belt law.

Last week, the House passed a primary bill with the understanding that some of the new federal money would be used to restore public transportation cuts proposed by the Douglas Administration.

The bill faces some strong opposition in the Senate. Transportation committee chairman Dick Mazza.

(Mazza) “This committee has not looked at number one what are the ramifications from having a federal mandate by giving us one time money number, two do we want to spend the money towards public transportation and so we have had no testimony whatsoever.”

(Kinzel) Mazza says he has serious doubts if the seat belt law will make it to the floor of the Senate this year.

(Mazza) “At this point I would not give it high hopes. It’s too late and any bill that comes out of this committee will certainly want to look at the pros and cons of the legislation.”

(Kinzel) So what happens to the effort to boost spending for public transportation if the seat belt bill dies? This is where a new proposed tax on Vermont Yankee comes into the picture.

Senate President Peter Shumlin wants to tax Vermont Yankee to finance the Senate’s global warming initiative and that includes money for public transportation.

(Shumlin) “The other half of our global warming we all know emissions come from the way we move around public transit is really struggling in the governor’s budget. Every new bus that we can put on the road is the equivalent of 7 polluting busses on the road.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Yankee tax plan is now being reviewed by Senate Finance committee.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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