Mass. House Goes in Reverse, Nixes Primary Seat Belt Law

The Massachusetts House, in a dramatic reversal, voted Tuesday to kill a controversial seat belt bill that would have allowed police to pull over drivers and cite them solely for not wearing seat belts.

Police can now cite drivers for not buckling up only if they pull them over for some other reason.

The 80-76 vote is an about-face for the House, which had voted to approve the bill in January by a narrow 76-74 margin. The Senate backed the bill by a wide margin after debating it last week.

The vote to reject the seat belt bill comes just days before one of the busiest driving weekends of the year and in the midst of a “click it or ticket” public education effort designed to encourage drivers to buckle up.

Supporters of the so-called “primary seat belt” bill say it will save dozens of lives and spare hundreds from serious injuries. Opponents argue it will increase the power of the state and erode the civil rights of minority drivers.

The vote was a final procedural vote to enact the bill before shipping it back to the Senate for that chamber’s final vote. At that point the bill would have gone to Gov. Mitt Romney’s desk. A chamber typically doesn’t reverse itself during the final enactment vote.

Romney had indicated support for the bill.

It’s not the first time the House has moved against primary seat belt legislation. The House deadlocked on a similar bill in 2001, with a 76-76 vote, and in 2003, with a 73-73 vote.