Local rep. pushing for higher seat belt fines; money to benefit kids

KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Not wearing your seat belt could cost you your life, but right now it doesn't cost you much money.

Soon, that could change.

A local Tennessee state representative is proposing a tougher penalty for folks not buckling up.

Drivers and passengers alike have probably heard the warning: "click it or ticket."

But soon, that ticket could be a lot more expensive.

We discovered Kingsport state representative Tony Shipley is proposing a bill to increase the fine for folks who don't strap in.

"This will help people pay attention," Shipley said.

Right now fines are minimal for riding around without your seat belt on, but under Shipley's proposal, it'll cost about $50 more for not buckling up.

Shipley said that money isn't going into the state's general fund. "I decided to obligate [the funds], and we had an extremely worthy cause in our community called CASA," he said.

CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Kids, a group that works towards the best interest and safety of abused and neglected children in court.    

Under this law, CASA would get $20 from every seat belt fine, and with Shipley's estimate of 65,000 violations every year that can mean more kids served.

"Currently, we're serving 48 percent of the children in our own community here in the Sullivan and Hawkins counties. Ideally we should be on every single case," said Connie Steere, executive director of CASA, for Kids, Inc. for Sullivan and Hawkins Counties.

Steere told us she expects $30,000 a year if this bill passes.

"$30,000 could take care of hiring another staff for our program. That's 30 more volunteers and [the] equivalent of usually about 75 more children per year," said Steere.

Some might call it a win/win; more drivers possibly buckling up, and those who still won't give more kids in our community a chance for a better life.

"One child's voice lifted up in court, one child's life is lifted up for a lifetime, hey, it's an achievement," Steere added.

Shipley said this legislation also calls for CASA to help facilitate what's being called "Erin's Law" that would give funding for kids to be educated in schools about preventing sex abuse.

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