Fri, Feb. 28

Arizona booster seat law goes into effect this summer

PHOENIX -- Arizona is on the verge of joining a majority of other states in requiring children too big for special child restraints to be strapped into vehicles with booster seats.

Current law already requires anyone younger than 16 traveling in a car or truck to be buckled up. The new law, signed late Wednesday by Gov. Jan Brewer, spells out that children age 5 through 7 must also have a little extra padding between them and the seat.

The law takes effect this summer.

In separate action, Brewer gave her expected approval to a compromise hammered out between the astronomy community and the billboard industry that will make most of northern, eastern and southern Arizona off-limits to digital electronic billboards with changing messages.

Brewer had vetoed an earlier measure which would have spelled out in statute that such signs are permitted under state law. That would have overturned a state Court of Appeals ruling which concluded otherwise, a ruling that would have required 70 such signs along freeways and state roads to be removed.

The governor said she feared additional light pollution could undermine research and make Arizona less attractive for new observatories. The deal formally legalizes those 70 existing signs and ensures there will be no new ones of this type allowed within 75 miles of existing or planned telescopes, leaving much of Maricopa, Yuma and LaPaz counties as permitted zones.

Mark Mayer who lobbies for Scenic Arizona said while that compromise helps astronomers, lawmakers should have insisted on special limits on these signs for the rest of the state.

He said that they are instead governed by the same regulations as other billboards. Mayer said that could mean up to 106 signs along stretches of two-lane state highways, though the number would be closer to 20 along freeways.

Cities and counties will maintain existing rights to enact even tougher restrictions, though, or ban the signs outright.

Brewer also signed legislation to:

- Ease the legal requirements on some creditors suing people over credit card debts;

- Require the Department of Economic Security to establish a separate Office of Child Welfare Investigations in coordination with the organization that sets standards for training police officers;

- Revise factors a court must consider in divorce cases in determining what is best for placement of a child.

In signing the booster seat measure, Brewer ended years of legislative wrangling on the issue.

More to the point, the governor came down on the side of child safety advocates in the dispute -- and against those who argued that such mandates are beyond the role of government. And most of those have been from her own Republican party.

What apparently made a difference this time is the realization by some that Arizona already had gone half-way there -- and that failing to go the whole way actually would cause more harm than good.

Testifying before the House Transportation Committee, Sara Bode, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children's Hospital, said the problem is that seat belts were designed for adults. She said the belts, being mandatory for children, won't really protect them in a crash.

In fact, she said, the reverse may be true.

"Kids that are in an adult seat belt can just fly out underneath," Bode said."Otherwise, even if they stay within the adult seat belt, they're getting major head and neck injuries or abdominal injuries because it's not in the right location."

In a prepared statement, Brewer said that any views she might have as an elected official are secondary to those she has as a mother. "I believe there can be no higher priority than the safety and well being of our children,' she said.

This measure is aimed at those who reach age 5. Existing law says anyone younger than that must be secured in an approved "child restraint system,' meaning a specially designed car seat.

Under the new law, children who are at least 5 but younger than 8, have to be in a booster seat if they are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall. And then, like anyone younger than 16, they have to be secured with a standard seat belt.

To get the votes for the measure, proponents had to spell out that violators can be cited only if a vehicle was first stopped for some other reason. Police officers cannot pull someone over solely because they see an unrestrained child.

Violators will be subject to a $50 fine. But that penalty is waived if the vehicle owner purchases approved equipment before going to court.

Stuart Goodman, a lobbyist for AAA Arizona, said Arizona until now has been one of only three states in the country without a booster seat law.

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