Montana lawmakers seek stricter seat belt rule, 24/7 port of entry

| 7/31/2008

In preparation of the 2009 regular session, Montana state lawmakers have begun drafting bills for possible consideration.

Among them is requested legislation from Sen. Ken Hansen, D-Harlem, that would urge 24-hour operation for the Turner Port of Entry on state Highway 241.

The border crossing is 12 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border now is open seven days a week. From Sept. 16 through May 31 each year, the facility is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. From June 1 through Sept. 15, the facility extends its hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Advocates for 24-hour operations say it would boost economies on both sides of the border.

Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, is renewing his effort to allow primary enforcement of the state’s seat belt law.

Currently, law enforcement in the state can issue seat belt citations to drivers only after stopping their vehicles for another violation, such as speeding.

During the past two legislative sessions, the Senate approved the stricter rule sought by Cooney only to see the House kill the bills.

Opponents cite personal choice and the potential for racial profiling among the concerns about the stricter enforcement effort. Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

The unwillingness by lawmakers to adopt the primary enforcement rule puts the state in jeopardy of losing nearly $5 million in federal funding for roads and bridges.

The 2005 federal highway legislation gives any state that adopts tougher seat belt rules one-time grant money equal to 500 percent of the highway funding they received in 2003. States that do not adopt primary enforcement by Dec. 31, 2008, will lose out on the money.

Montana is one of 23 states without a primary seat belt law. Twenty-six states allow police to pull over drivers solely for not wearing their seat belts. New Hampshire is the only state without a mandatory seat-belt law of any kind.

These and other proposals can be considered during the legislative session that begins Jan. 5, 2009.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Montana, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor