I did on one issue, but another issue offers encouragement for long-term progress. In my last post, I noted how encouraging it was that air quality issues are finally moving to the forefront of engaged debate in Utah. As the new year dawned, it also appeared that the Utah Legislature seemed poised, at long last, to meaningfully address declining air quality issues along the Wasatch Front and in other problem areas in the state. Sadly, I spoke too soon on this issue.
The 2015 legislative session, which began January 26th and wraps up at midnight tomorrow, saw the introduction of approximately two dozen bills aimed at improving the quality of the air that Utahns breathe. Unfortunately, the single most important bill that was introduced on the issue, a bill that would allow state regulators to adopt air quality regulations and standards that exceed those in place at the federal level, failed to pass. Some bills that nibble around the edges of air quality issues passed, but air quality advocates are mollifying themselves with the notion that the 2015 session is only the beginning of a multi-year effort to promote and enshrine a clean air agenda at the state level.
I hope the advocates’ optimism is well-placed. If the saga of a completely unrelated bill that finally passed this session is an indication, it may very well be. That bill, HB79, makes failure to wear a seat-belt a primary offense in Utah. That means law enforcement can pull-over and cite drivers and passengers directly for the failure to wear seat-belts. To date, seat-belt violations have been a “secondary” offense for those 18 and over. Officers could only issue a $45.00 ticket for a seat-belt violation if a vehicle was stopped for another reason.
The new seat-belt law has been doggedly pursued for years by Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry (no, that is not a typo). Rep. Perry is also a lieutenant with the Utah Highway Patrol, and he dedicated the bill to two 16-year olds who might have survived the car accident that took their lives if they had been wearing seat-belts. Lt. Perry investigated the accident, and had to break the news to the mother of one of the young men who is a family friend. She helped lobby for the bill which Rep. Perry estimates will save 35 lives a year.
There has been long-standing opposition to the bill because opponents have steadfastly argued that it interferes with “personal freedoms, and adds to a “nanny state” culture. In response, Rep. Perry has consistently argued that it does not impose any more limitations on personal freedoms than the enforcement of laws addressing other moving traffic violations. He also argued statistics show that approximately 17% of Utah drivers do not wear seat-belts, but they account for 50% of roadway fatalities. It seems those arguments, and Rep. Perry’s dogged persistence in sponsoring the bill, finally carried the day. Let’s hope that someday air quality advocates can successfully negotiate the same path to success.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.