Mar 092006
Authors: Jenna Lynn Ellis

Two bills are currently before the Colorado Legislature that Larimer County legislators believe pose a threat to individual freedoms held by Colorado citizens.

The first, House Bill 1125, will make the seat belt use requirement a primary offense. This would increase the purview of Colorado law enforcement and allow officers to stop and ticket anyone they suspect is unrestrained.

Colorado is one of 27 states that currently has "secondary" seat belt enforcement, meaning officers can only issue a ticket for a seat belt violation if they originally stopped the driver for a separate offense.

"I have always been opposed to making seat belt use a primary offense," said Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins. "I am a proponent of seat belt use, but it is something that people can figure out on their own. I think this is an overreaching measure into the private lives of Colorado citizens."

He added, "I think that the police are overworked – they have told me they are – and issues such as drunk driving and other offenses pose a much greater threat."

Beyond opposing the issue, Johnson and Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, voice concern that the issue is "driven, in part, by a federal law that withholds some federal funds (potentially $12 million) for states that do not capitulate to this demand of Congress," according to Lundberg's Web site.

"I'm disappointed the House passed this bill," Lundberg said. "It concerns me that we have capitulated to federal law to get a few federal dollars. I think that is the wrong reason to put policy in place and I'm concerned that it sets up a system that is too intrusive into individual citizens' lives."

HB 1125 successfully made it through the House on Feb. 15 by a 33-32 vote. The bill is now in the hands of the Senate.

"An element of federal blackmail is involved with the federal government giving $12 million of additional transportation revenue to Colorado if the change is made," Johnson said. "I resent the federal blackmail issue. The federal government is basically telling us to do this or lose funding."

The second bill is House Bill 1175, a measure to ban smoking in privately owned spaces. The bill passed successfully out of the House on Feb. 13 by a vote of 41-24. As it currently reads, the bill bans smoking in all public, indoor places except casinos.

"If HB 1175 becomes law, the state will have assumed a major new authority over citizens of Colorado because it assumes the state can dictate to the people what they can do (which is otherwise legal) in privately owned property," Lundberg said.

"The bill now heads to the Senate, where a tough battle is expected," Johnson said. "One proposal certain to be considered will be an exemption for bars and taverns, perhaps defined as those places having less than 25 percent of their business in serving food."

"I have successfully passed an amendment on the bill so that the ban will not include outbuildings for farms and ranches," Lundberg said. "Overall, the bill will pass and I opposed it."

Jenna Lynn Ellis is a junior technical journalism major. Her column runs in the Collegian every Friday.

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