By Martha Stoddard
LINCOLN, Neb. When is a line
of vehicles a parade?
Are kids enjoying a hayrack ride sitting in part of a vehicle
not intended for passengers?
And does state law already bar children from riding in the
back of a pickup without seat belts?
Those puzzlers and more came before the Nebraska Legislature
The debate started out simply enough, with a bill introduced
by Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island that aims to protect children
from falling or being thrown out of pickup beds.
Legislative Bill 227 would prohibit anyone under age 18 from
riding in part of a vehicle not intended for passengers, unless
they were protected with seat belts.
Over the past decade, six youngsters have died and 111 others
been injured in Nebraska when riding in the back of pickup
trucks, Aguilar said.
Two of those deaths were children of friends, said Sen. Dennis
Byars of Beatrice, who has pushed for strengthening seat belt
"I think it's a matter of us changing our culture and
changing the way we do things," he said. "It's our
job as public policy-makers to protect children."
But in a bow to Nebraska's rural heritage, the bill would
not apply to agricultural workers being transported in the
course of their jobs. Call it the detasseling crew exemption.
"When you live in Nebraska, there's concessions you
have to make for agriculture," Aguilar said.
The bill also would not apply when a vehicle is part of an
officially authorized parade, caravan or exhibition.
Several senators raised questions about the definitions used
in the bill, especially about what constitutes a parade.
Sen. Chris Beutler of Lincoln asked whether the bill was
even needed. He pointed out that existing state law requires
children under age 16 to be properly restrained when being
transported in motor vehicles.
He said some law enforcement officials have used current
law to ticket drivers with youngsters riding in the back of
pickups. Other officials, however, doubt that current law
Despite the questions, senators advanced the bill. Aguilar
promised to address the issues raised Wednesday before the
bill comes back for the second of the three rounds of debate
that are required before a bill is sent to the governor.