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Legislators Vow to Protect State Citizen Rights Following High Court Seat Belt Decision

In light of last week's Supreme Court's ruling regarding seat belt usage, State Senator Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo and State Representative Terry Matlock, D- Garver have renewed their commitment to protecting the citizens of Oklahoma.

Stating that police have the right to arrest and handcuff people for minor traffic offenses, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last week in the case of a Texas woman who was arrested while her young children looked on for failing to wear a seat belt. Rabon and Matlock teamed up last week to draft an amendment that would prevent a similar situation from happening in Oklahoma.

"This case should serve as a wake-up call throughout the country for states to review their statutes and understand how the law is currently written," said Senator Rabon. "This specific case had substantiation because Texas and a handful of other states have laws on the books that specifically allow for this type of arrest. This decision means that other states could have similar arrests occur because this case has set the precedent. In light of last week's decision, we have examined Oklahoma's statutes and have drafted legislation accordingly to protect our citizen rights."

Current state law maintains police officers can stop a vehicle if it appears the driver of the vehicle is endangering a person's safety by failing to use proper restraint devices, but it does not specifically prohibit an officer from making an arrest in such situations. Rabon and Matlock's proposed amendment would take a step further and establish that a law enforcement officer could not arrest or incarcerate anyone for such a violation.

"Protecting the safety of Oklahomans has always been a high priority, but protecting citizens individual rights is just as important," Representative Matlock said. "This latest decision has prompted us to stop and take a look at Oklahoma's law. It should protect without infringing on basic personal rights preserved by law."

Although lawmakers are rapidly nearing the May 25th adjournment of the 2001 legislative session, Rabon maintains this issue is still at the top of the priority list.

"We are making every attempt to find a way to carry this change in the language of the law during this year's legislative session, but if we find that we can't do it this year, it will be one of my top priorities for next year's meeting. People deserve protection of their rights and freedoms, so we're just ensuring our state laws protect their rights without stepping on their toes with a law that allows a person to be arrested for a minor offense like not wearing a seat belt."

Contact info
Cindy Hansen Carpenter - (405) 521-5605