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Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. ALLEN. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Oklahoma. I am glad we are going to be voting on my amendment around noon. I had thought it was going to be 11:30, but it is now noon.

Let me share with my colleagues the rationale behind amendment No. 611 to the underlying bill.

I first thank my colleague, Senator Ensign of Nevada, for cosponsoring this amendment. The purpose of my amendment is to make sure that safety belt incentive grants are awarded based on a State's seatbelt use rate, not based upon a prescriptive mandate from the Federal Government that would make the States enact a primary seatbelt law to receive their Federal funds.

The way this bill came out of committee, in effect, for the States to get their money, they have to enact a primary enforcement seatbelt law. Seatbelt laws generally, whether you have a law such as 29 States do, which is secondary enforcement, or in some cases not even secondary enforcement laws, or some States have primary enforcement laws, this is an issue under the purview of the people in the States.

This is not an issue for the Federal Government to get involved. This is not an issue of civil rights. It is not an issue of interstate commerce. It is not in the Constitution. There is no way Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would ever envision the Federal Government worrying about such matters. I know they did not have automobiles in those days, but they were not coming up with worries about what kind of saddles they had or making sure folks on horseback laced up their saddles correctly with a buck and strap or whether there were seatbelts on buggies.

The underlying bill clearly tramples on the jurisdiction that has long been held by the people in the States. I don't believe ``nanny'' mandates such as this initiative should come from Government. But if they must, the government should be that of the State legislature and not the Congress. State legislators provide a much closer representation of the views and beliefs of their respective constituencies in our country.

I am a firm believer that the laws of a particular State reflect the philosophy and principles under which the citizens of that State should be governed. The people in the States do not need fancy Federales telling them what to do. Moreover, I doubt a single Senator ran for this office of Senator promising to enact primary seatbelt laws, trampling on the laws of their States.

This chart shows a minority of States, 21 States, the States in red, have primary safety belt laws; 29 States do not, the States in white on the chart, and New Hampshire. I surmise this issue has been considered by every one of the State legislatures in all our 50 States. In 29 of those States, primary enforcement of seatbelt laws was rejected.

Why were they rejected? Each State may have their own reasons. Some may believe it is more important for law enforcement to worry about drunk drivers or impaired drivers rather than craning their necks trying to figure out what is in someone's lap as they are driving otherwise safely down the road. There are others that may have concerns about driving while black, a concern of racial profiling. Regardless of the reasons, 29 States have rejected primary seatbelt laws.

Given that a majority of the States has declined such laws, it seems inappropriate for the Federal Government to devise a grant program that essentially compels the States to enact primary enforcement laws, and if they do not, they lose Federal gas tax dollars the people in these States paid into the Federal highway trust fund.

My amendment revises the Occupant Protection Incentive Grant Program to grant awards on 85-percent belt use rate--the national average is about 80 percent. Eighty-five percent would, of course, be a significant increase. People are safer wearing seatbelts. It is a good idea to wear seatbelts, but instead of compelling States to enact primary seatbelt laws, the grants should be awarded solely on seatbelt use attainment. The point is to get people to wear seatbelts, not to have prescriptive micromanagement from the Federal Government.

For me, it is difficult to understand the logic of an incentive program that provides Virginia, with its high safety belt use, far less funding than a State with far lower seatbelt use rate but with a primary seatbelt law. Yet that is entirely possible under this bill if the State with a lower seatbelt use rate has enacted a primary seatbelt law.

For example, a State could have 70-percent seatbelt usage and receive Federal funds under this grant program only because it has enacted a primary seatbelt law. However, another State could have 89-percent seatbelt usage rate but not qualify for this grant funding because it does not have a primary seatbelt law. That makes absolutely no sense unless one is an officious meddler who wants to dictate and meddle in the prerogatives of the people in the States.

If the goal is to attain higher safety belt usage rates, incentive grants should be awarded based on a specific goal. In our amendment, it is 85 percent. This amendment is similar to one already included in the House version of this highway bill legislation. My proposal is a much more equitable way to provide incentives and reward States for increasing seatbelt use rates. It makes the proposed program fair by making requirements the same for all States, but does not compel States to enact primary seatbelt laws.

How do you get people to wear seatbelts if you do not have a law? As if everyone carries the code of their State around in the glove box or, for that matter, carries around the United States Code. There are a variety of ways. In some States with secondary enforcement, with higher usage rates than those with primary enforcement laws, there can be advertising, there can be incentives. There are a variety of programs creative people can devise as well as just common sense.

I wear a seatbelt. My kids wear seatbelts. Everyone ought to. But the point is, Should this Senate be telling the States to pass primary enforcement laws?

I urge all my colleagues to consider the laws of your State. If you are in one of the 29 States that does not have a primary seatbelt law, what in effect Senators are saying is, we do not trust you in South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Arizona, or Montana to make these laws. I don't agree with this. Moreover, you are telling people from Alaska to Arizona to Florida and South Carolina, Virginia, and on up to New Hampshire and Maine, sure, you all are paying Federal gas tax revenues into the Federal Government highway trust fund from your gasoline purchases, but you are not going to be able to get this approximately $500 million portion back unless you pass a primary enforcement seatbelt law.

The people in the States should determine whether this Federal Government incentive plan should reward States that have high usage rates or whether it should be used to promote a certain meddling nanny philosophy.

I respectfully ask my colleagues to stand up for common sense, principled respect for the will of the people in the States. Stand up for the principle that the law ought to be fair to those across the country. If any of those States can reach 85-percent attainment rate, depending on how it gets calculated in the States, let them have access to these funds and grant them the broad authority, also, to use those funds for roads and adding on to roads, as well. Finally, rather than official Federal nannyism, stand up for trusting free people. They can make these decisions perfectly well, and have heated and vigorous debate in their State legislatures if necessary. We should not trespass on the will, desires, and views of the people of 29 States with this officious nannyism and the federales planting their finite wisdom over the will of the people in the States.

I ask my colleagues to vote in favor of the Allen amendment.



The PRESIDING OFFICER. There are 2 minutes of debate evenly divided on the Allen amendment.

The Senator from Virginia is recognized.

Mr. ALLEN. Mr. President, let me know when 1 minute is left, please.

My amendment sets a goal of 85 percent usage of seatbelts, and if a State achieves that, whichever way they may achieve it, they would get these incentive grants.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator is reminded that he only has 1 minute.

Mr. ALLEN. Thank you.

The purpose of my amendment is to not have the Federal Government as an officious nanny telling the States how to achieve seatbelt usage rates. Twenty-nine States don't have primary enforcement of seatbelt laws and 21 do. Seven States have 90 percent usage. Fifteen States have over 85 percent. The underlying proposal will actually reward States that have lower seatbelt usage only because they have primary enforcement seatbelt laws, while others that do not have primary enforcement seatbelt laws have a higher use rate.

I don't think the people in the States who have paid into the highway trust fund ought to be dictated to by officious Federal nannies; we should trust the people in the States to make these decisions as opposed to trespassing on those prerogatives.


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