NASHVILLE - Tennessee's fines for driving without a seat belt would more than double under a Haslam administration bill that Safety Department officials say is needed to cut the death toll on Tennessee highways.
House Transportation Subcommittee members approved the bill on a 7-2 vote, clearing the way for the measure to proceed to the full committee and at least three other panels after that. The Senate version has yet to move.
The bill boosts fines for not wearing a seat belt from $10 to $25 on first offense and $50 for second and subsequent offenses.
"As you know one of our primary goals is to reduce fatalities," Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said after the vote. "And historically over half of traffic fatalities in Tennessee have involved individuals who do not wear."
About 84 percent of Tennesseans wear their seat belts, Gibbons said, adding, "so 16 percent of people are responsible for over half of traffic fatalities due to not wearing seat belts. It's a criminal offense."
Safety officials cite research showing that each $10 increase in fines equates to about a 7 percent decrease in fatalities.
Earlier, Col. Tracy Trott, commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, told lawmakers that even with the increase, seat belt fines would still be lower than the average in Southeastern states: $59.60 on first offense and $64.10 on second offense.
Given that Tennessee roughly has about 1,000 fatalities per year, Trott said some 40 to 110 lives could be saved each year.
None of the committee members criticized the bill, which House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is carrying for the administration.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he initially had some reservations about raising the fine to $50 until he was told the state is planning a new advertising campaign after passage to make people aware of the law.
According to a fiscal analysis, raising fines would bring in an additional $1.3 million annually.
Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, voted against the measure.
"I think people ought to wear their seat belt. There's a fine in place already," Windle said.
He added, "I think we got enough rules in Tennessee as it is. I've heard for the last six years that we want less government intrusion and less rules. And I believe in that. People are tired of more rules and we need less rules rather than more."
In other legislative developments Wednesday:
• Legislation ending forced annexations began moving in the House.
Local Government Subcommittee members on a voice vote approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. It would require a referendum for cities to annex residential property.
During committee debate, two Democrats questioned the hurry on the bill. They noted the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has asked for more time to study annexation issues and other issues associated with the state's landmark 1998 law creating urban growth boundaries.
Carter said the TACIR study can continue but the annexation bill should proceed. Tennessee is one of only three states that permits involuntary annexations, he said.
"Y'all are talking like this bill ends annexation," Carter said. "It ends forced annexation. I'm saying that people have a right to say what happens with their property."
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, spoke in favor of the bill, noting he represents areas annexed decades ago by Chattanooga who still don't have services they're paying for in higher property taxes.
"Those people don't have water up there," Floyd said. "They have one fire truck that's about 15 to 20 minutes away. ... These people have paid city of Chattanoooga taxes for 30 or 40 years. And for what?"
sThe lawmaker's bill still allows voluntary annexations in which property owners petition or agree to come into a city. But annexation by ordinance, which critics call forced annexation, would become a thing in the past.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is the Senate sponsor of the bill.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.