Lawmakers held up over strict seat belt provision in transportation bill Pawlenty may veto

ST. PAUL -- Pawlenty administration officials and legislators paved over a pothole that prevented agreement on highway safety issues Wednesday, but a transportation bill containing those issues faces a likely rough road today when representatives...

ST. PAUL -- Pawlenty administration officials and legislators paved over a pothole that prevented agreement on highway safety issues Wednesday, but a transportation bill containing those issues faces a likely rough road today when representatives debate a strict seatbelt provision.

A House-Senate conference committee re-trieved a bill it earlier had approved so it could remove a provision that troubled Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- a requirement that all children motor vehicle passengers up to age 8 use child restraint systems. The governor said the requirement went beyond what the government should do.

"The bill in its current forum is ill-considered and will be vetoed," he wrote to key transportation lawmakers Wednesday.

During a hastily called meeting, a split panel approved removing the child-restraint provision. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor had not reviewed the new bill, so could not comment on whether it would be signed into law.

Two of the three safety measures in the original bill survived - provisions that restrict a driver in the first months of holding a driver's license and a measure allowing law enforcement officers to stop vehicles when someone is not wearing a seat belt. Now, officers can write tickets when a belt is not worn, but cannot stop a vehicle for a belt violation.


That seat belt issue should produce lively discussions when it reaches the full House, probably today.

"That's because of Iron Rangers and the Democratic Party as much as anything," Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said.

Rural members, in particular, oppose the safety mandates.

Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said lawmakers should do things to improve road safety, "but when it comes to micromanaging people who are driving cars, we have to trust citizens a little bit."

"It will be Dem on Dem violence," Moe said about how Democrats will handle the debate.

Pawlenty also said the requirement for boosters seats went too far.

"If grandma were picking up her 7-year-old granddaughter and three friends from a soccer game, in response to a last-minute request from a parent, would the grandma be required to have booster seats for all four children?" Pawlenty asked. "I hope you see my point about legislative overreach."

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, has fought for years for the seat belt provision and other safety measures. He grudgingly accepted Pawlenty's request to eliminate the booster seat mandate.


"If everyone is wearing seat belts, I will be much more comfortable," Murphy said, adding that provision alone would save many lives.

Dropping the booster seat requirement will cost up to 10 children's lives, he said, and mean many others will face serious injury because they are not wearing proper restraints.

Resort study passes

The House approved 116-16 a study of what the state can do to help Minnesota resorts.

The state tourism agency, Explore Minnesota, is to make recommendations dealing with consumer and resort issues, including tax laws that affect resorts, cabins and other vacation lodging.

The Senate passed the bill earlier, so it goes to the governor for his signature or veto.

No gas holiday

A proposed holiday from the gasoline tax failed 42-18 in the Senate.


The proposal by Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, would have eliminated state taxes on gasoline July 1 through Oct. 31.

Hospital wins OK

House members gave overwhelming approval to allow Fargo, N.D.-based Prairie St. John's to build a psychiatric hospital in Woodbury.

On a 125-8 vote, representatives allow the facility construction despite a statewide moratorium on new hospital beds. It would provide room for 66 patients - down from the 144-bed original request - for youths under 21 years of age.

"The crisis is now," Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, told her colleagues. "We have people who do not have a place to go for this type of treatment."

Twin Cities youths often must go to North Dakota, or even Canada, to get mental health.

"This is both damaging to the families and the children being treated," Rep. Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo, said.

A lawmaker representing an area near the company's Fargo home endorsed the Woodbury plan.


"I have seen the quality of work they provide first hand," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said.

A similar Senate bill is stalled in committee, but Swails said she hopes her provision gets tacked onto another bill that is moving ahead.

"I'm an optimist," Swails said. "When there's this kind of overwhelming support, there will be a way to get this built."

-- State Capitol reporters Scott Wente and Marisa Helms contributed to this report.

What To Read Next
Get Local