Proposed update to car seat rules pulled back for debate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – An effort to update Tennessee’s car seat rules that had been headed for Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature was pulled back for renewed debate in the House on Tuesday over questions about whether it would increase the age that children would be required to ride in booster seats.

The chamber voted 64-26 to recall the bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville that easily passed both chambers earlier in the week. At issue is whether children need to ride in booster seats until age 8 or age 12.

Clemmons argued that the 12-year-old rule is already in state law unless children are taller than 4 feet 9 inches. But House Republicans argued the most common interpretation by law enforcement and the public is that the booster seat requirement ends at age 8.

“When you have a child that’s 12 years old and 4 foot 9 inches, putting them in a car seat doesn’t make much sense – they’re big enough to sit in a seat belt,” said Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro. “It’s government trying to stick in their hand and fix something that’s not broke.”

Clemmons said the main point of his bill was to extend the time that toddlers must sit in rearward-facing car seats from 1-year-old to 2-years-old in keeping with what he called “the accepted national safety standard that keeps children from getting decapitated and thrown through the windshield.”

The rest of his bill merely clarified existing booster seat laws for older children, he said.

Clemmons said he worries that if the bill is sent back to committee, opponents will work to “gut the law that’s in place, and send our state safety back 50 years.”

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin said that several members had heard from constituents who complained of “government overreach” and that the measure would be a financial burden on families with young children.

“It’s a proper action that we’re taking just to recall it, refer it to a committee on Monday and re-debate it to make sure we did not make a mistake,” Casada said.

The Senate version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, on a 32-0 vote on Monday. The House passed it on a 68-19 vote later the same day.

“It wasn’t political, it wasn’t controversial,” Clemmons said. “This bill was simply to update our child safety seat laws with national safety standards. That’s it.”