Governor Keating has vetoed legislation that would have specifically prohibited law enforcement officers from handcuffing and incarcerating Oklahoma motorists that violate the state seatbelt law, according to Senator Frank Shurden, the author of SB 444.
Responding to a Texas case involving a woman who was handcuffed and jailed for a seatbelt violation, Senator Shurden amended his legislation to include a provision stating that "a law enforcement officer may not handcuff or incarcerate any person for violation" of the statute that
mandates seatbelt usage. It also specifically stated that an officer had the option of giving a motorist a verbal warning for such a violation.
Governor Keating vetoed SB 444 Tuesday.
"Nobody should be cuffed and thrown in jail just because they weren't wearing a seat belt. I think the vast majority of Oklahomans believe that a ticket and a fine are more than enough punishment, but apparently Governor Keating feels differently. He's moved us one step closer to a police state," said Senator Shurden.
The Henryetta lawmaker said his legislation was inspired by the case of a Texas soccer mom. Gail Atwater was handcuffed and taken to jail after she was stopped on the way home from soccer practice. She told police that she had loosened her children's seatbelts to look for a missing toy, but she was taken to jail anyway. She ultimately took the case to the U.S.
Supreme Court, but lost on a close 5-4 decision in April when justices ruled that the Texas law allowing such an arrest did not violate the constitution.
"I didn't want the Texas soccer mom case repeated in Oklahoma, but anything is possible after Governor Keating's veto. The same thing can happen here under our current law," said Senator Shurden.
In his veto message, Governor Keating ignored the seatbelt issue, choosing to focus instead on a provision in SB 444 relating to the training and equipment provided by the Department of Public Safety to its officers, namely the State Capitol Patrol. The governor claimed the legislation "did not clearly indicate" whether all officers of the highway patrol had to complete a training academy, but Senator Shurden said that excuse doesn't hold water.
"That's just some cover story dreamed up by the governor. He knows that this bill does not affect any of the current requirements for highway patrol training. The truth is Governor Keating didn't like the seatbelt provision, but he apparently didn't want the public to know his position. He knows that people aren't going to like the prospect of being thrown in jail for a seatbelt violation and he doesn't want to take the heat if it happens," said Senator Shurden.
The Henryetta legislator said this is at least the second time this year that Governor Keating has vetoed legislation that had widespread public support. In May, the governor killed SB 352, a campaign reform measure also authored by Senator Shurden that would have punished political candidates for lying about their opponents' record in public office.
"Once again, I think Governor Keating is out of step with the average Oklahoman. They've made it clear that they're tired of nasty campaign lies, but Governor Keating has increased the chances that the election process will get even dirtier," noted Senator Shurden.
"First, he used his veto pen to give candidates a license to lie and cheat as much as they want. Now he's saying it's okay to cart people off to jail just because they didn't put on a seatbelt. Both vetoes are irresponsible."