Arizona may finally be ready to give youngsters riding in cars and trucks a bit of a boost.
On a 19-10 vote Wednesday, the Senate gave final approval to legislation spelling out that 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds who are no taller than 4-feet 9-inches need to have a little room between their bottoms and the seats before they are belted in. The House already has approved the measure, leaving the final word up to Gov. Jan Brewer.
If she signs it, it would mark the end of a multi-year fight that, until now, ended with foes being able to kill the plan.
Some do remain.
“It is a nanny state kind of thing,” said Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford. “I think that’s a parent’s responsibility, not our responsibility.”
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, agreed.
“You’re going to take care of your own kids,” he said. “You’re going to do what’s right. You don’t need government, the nanny state, telling you every little thing to do. It’s just one more government intrusion for whatever well-intentioned purpose.”
Those arguments were enough to carry the day for the last few years. And the opponents included Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City — until this year.
What changed she said, was the realization that existing Arizona law requires anyone younger than 16, anywhere in the vehicle, to use a seat belt.
Those younger than 5 must be in specially designed child restraints. But on the fifth birthday, just the standard belt is all that is necessary.
McLain said a pediatrician explained to her that those belts are not designed for someone that small. More to the point, the position of the belts actually could cause major head and neck injuries.
So McLain, newly converted, agreed to sponsor HB 2154.
That, however, did not convince Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert. In fact, he said the situation only has reinforced his belief that the government should stay out of these kinds of mandates entirely.
“The best parent for the child is that child’s parent and not the state,” he said. Biggs said that is why he has opposed other seat belt laws — including the one about those younger than 16 which now needs to be tweaked.
“It’s ironic that we insisted that we mandate unsafe safety belt laws and now say, ‘Oh my gosh, we had some unintended consequences when we were trying to nanny state for everybody in the state,’” Biggs said. “And now we have to fix that.”