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'Taking away personal freedoms' -- Sheriff Lee not a fan of seat belt proposal

By a margin of a single vote, the North Dakota Senate has approved a proposal allowing police to pull over drivers not wearing their seat belts. The narrow victory in the Senate, has approved a fine of $50 for drivers not wearing their seat belt....

Stock photo of young woman fastening seat belt in the car.
Stock photo of young woman fastening seat belt in the car.

By a margin of a single vote, the North Dakota Senate has approved a proposal allowing police to pull over drivers not wearing their seat belts. The narrow victory in the Senate, has approved a fine of $50 for drivers not wearing their seat belt. The measure now heads to the House for consideration - a consideration Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee hopes isn't passed.

"If you choose to or not to is your business, I think," he said. "I believe we're kind of getting carried away with taking away personal freedoms."

Lee spoke specifically on the seat belt bill, saying it wasn't a bill he supported even though he encouraged everyone to wear one.

"Obviously this is legislative time, so a majority of our conversations at the North Dakota Sheriff's and Deputies Association focused on the new bills and on what we wanted to support and potentially what we didn't support. There were some that I'm in support of, and others that I am not," Lee said. "You learn that you don't always have to follow the crowd at chow time, so to speak. It's hard being a new guy and going against the group. You feel a lot of pressure to jump on the bandwagon and I'm just not going to do that."

Addressing the safety argument levied by his peers and those in Bismarck, Lee said he felt like the bill was misguided.

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"I know I kind of contradict myself with this one, but the primary enforcement seat belt bill I just can't get on board with," Lee said. "There is already a primary enforcement for juveniles and I am in support of that. I'm not in support of it for adults. I feel like as an adult we make adult decisions and one of those is whether or not to put on a seat belt."

Adding, "As law enforcement, if we find someone speeding, driving reckless, running a stop sign, a red light, etc. they are putting other people's lives in danger. I don't see how you are putting others at danger by not wearing your own seat belt."

If you're asking yourself why this all sounds vaguely familiar, it was already a law-to an extent.

North Dakota's 1993 legislature passed a seat belt law, with the caveat being that drivers couldn't be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt unless they were pulled over for another traffic violation first. The new measure would allow police to pull over vehicles for drivers sans-restraint without needing another violation to initiate the stop.

The measure was ultimately supported by the North Dakota Sheriff's and Deputies Association.

"Personally, I supported it because it saves lives," Benson County Sheriff Steve Rohrer, a former vice president of the NDSDA. "It was pretty unanimous, but there are always those who personally don't support certain bills."

Sen. Scott Meyer, a Republican from Grand Forks, brought the bill before the Senate for a second time on Tuesday after it failed initially in a tie vote on Monday.

Meyer said other obligations prevented him from being able to cast his vote on Monday, and thus the senator brought the bill back to the floor on Tuesday where it passed. He said it was important to him to have his vote recorded on the matter based on a harrowing farm accident he experienced nearly two decades ago.

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"I was in a farm accident a little over 20 years ago where I was driving a vehicle and I was going a little too fast on a gravel road and my conscience told me 'put on your seat belt'," Meyer recounted. "Just a few minutes later I rolled the vehicle. If it wasn't for that seat belt I would have died that day."

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The investigation is ongoing.