CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Buckle up or pay up, drivers.
The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday allowing police to pull over any driver not wearing a seatbelt. Each offense will merit a $25 fine.
The legislation now heads to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for a signature. Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler-Goodwin said the governor would sign the bill into law.
While the seat belt bill was subjected to a lengthy debate in the House of Delegates -- it passed on a 55-44 vote late last month -- there was no discussion of the measure in the Senate.
Senators passed the bill with a 24-10 vote.
"That was on the high side of where I thought the 'no' votes would be," Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said.
Palumbo, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has worked for five sessions to make seat belt violations a primary offense in West Virginia. While the bill has passed the Senate several times, it never made it out of committee in the House.
"I am glad to see it passed. When you work on something like that for five years, you have a certain amount of frustration," he said. "I didn't expect this year to be any different."
While Palumbo introduced a seat belt bill this year, he said he decided months ago to put his priorities elsewhere this session. There was no sense in using up Senate time to pass a bill that was destined to die in the House.
Much to Palumbo's surprise, it was the House that got the ball rolling this year.
House Bill 2108, sponsored by Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, received a contentious 13-11 vote in the House Judiciary Committee, with a combination of Democrats and Republicans on both sides.
Opponents of the bill argued it would infringe on drivers' personal rights. Supporters touted statistics showing primary offense laws reduce crash-related deaths.
Palumbo said he did not get involved in the debate, however.
"I didn't spend any time over in the House trying to advocate for it," he said.
Although Palumbo was confident the bill would pass the Senate, he said he was surprised at how many "nay" votes the legislation received. Last year's version of the seat belt bill received only four "nay" votes when it came up for a final vote in the Senate.
"I think it's the same opposition you heard in the House, government shouldn't be telling people what to do in your car," he said.
Palumbo said the legislation is not taking away drivers' choices, though. He pointed out failing to wear a seatbelt already is against state law. Police officers just could not pull over drivers for the offense.
Currently, 32 states have laws that allow police to pull over a driver for not wearing a seat belt. There are 17 states where the law is a secondary offense, like West Virginia. One state, New Hampshire, has neither.