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Area lawmakers divided over bill

Area legislators all support the use of seat belts, but they aresplit over support for legislation that would allow law enforcementofficers to make traffic stops simply for people not bucklingup.

The use of seat belts is already mandatory. However, under theexisting laws, officers must have another reason to make a trafficstop before they can cite a motorist for not using them.

Legislation now on Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk would amendexisting law to make the non-use of seat belts a primary offenseand allow officers to make traffic stops of motorists for simplynot wearing them. Barbour plans to sign the bill.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, and District 92Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, R-Brookhaven, supported the change. District53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, did not.

“I’m a strong advocate of seat belts,” Hyde-Smith said. “Myhusband says I don’t go to the mail box without putting my seatbelt on.”

The senator said she supported the bill for two reasons. Mostimportant was safety, she said, but the legislation would alsoassure the state doesn’t lose $8 million in federal highwayfunding.

Moak, however, said he voted against the popular bill, whichsailed through the House and Senate by significant margins.

“I didn’t vote for it,” he said. “I haven’t in the past,either.”

Moak said that although he would hate to lose the federalfunding and personally uses seat belts and advocates their use, hedid not believe their usage was important enough to warrantofficers making traffic stops.

Seat belt usage is a personal choice, he said, but, more thanthat, “I have not wanted to add to the list of primary stops.”