AUGUSTA — Midcoast legislators supported a bill that would have reduced the number of violations for which police could stop a driver.

The legislation, however, failed last week in a House vote. The House voted 77 to 60 April 7 to defeat LD 1479, “An Act to Make Certain Traffic Infractions Secondary Offenses.”

This means police would not have been allowed to stop motorists for those offenses, but could issue tickets if the violations were found from a traffic stop for different reasons.

The infractions that would have been made secondary offenses included littering from a motor vehicle, failing to register a vehicle or properly display registration if the registration expiration is less than 150 days, failing to display a valid and current inspection sticker if the expiration is less than seven months and there is no imminent safety problem visible, operating a vehicle with a suspended license that was suspended for failure to pay a fine or reinstatement fee, and a loud muffler.

While the bill failed 77-60, all Knox County state representatives voted for the proposed law. That included Democratic Reps. Valli Geiger D-Rockland, Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, Ann Matlack, D-St. George, Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, and William Pluecker, I-Warren.

“I voted for this bill because the fines for most of these offenses just continue to keep a person in a downward spiral,” Evangelos said. “Just take one look at the weekly Knox County Court news published by Village Soup. We should be giving people warnings rather than fining them into debtor prison status. With the cost of living rising sharply, low income families are already struggling to pay their bills, find affordable housing, and keeping a vehicle on the road so they can get to a job. So I saw this bill as a reform.”

The original version of the bill also included making failure to wear a seatbelt as a secondary offense. That was met by resistance from the medical field and law enforcement. The roll call vote last week was on the amended bill that was stripped of the seatbelt requirement being made a secondary offense.

Rep. Pluecker said “Oftentimes, many of these offenses dealing with failure to pay a fine, properly register a vehicle, or repair the light bulb over your license affect those least likely to have the money to repair or pay the fees. We do not need to target people who are in violation when we have larger issues to deal with as a community. These laws are all still in effect, but if this law had passed, they would not have been targets of the police when on patrol.”

The Maine Medical Association offered testimony at the March 3 public hearing before Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee of the Legislature, asking the seatbelt requirement be enforced.

Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll offered testimony opposed to the bill.

“Most of these laws have been developed and have remained in statute for years for no other reason than for the safety of the people and the motoring traffic on our public ways. With this law we are saying Maine citizens are de minimis and unless otherwise worthy of stopping a vehicle for another, more serious offense, not important. With this law, this legislative body is saying safety of the people we serve is SECONDARY!,” Carroll wrote in his testimony.

“Reducing the enforcement efforts for people to wear seat belts and safely secure our children to a secondary offense, along with the other identified infractions, is irresponsible,” Carroll said. “While Maine sheriffs strive to work with legislators to craft laws that are in best interest of all Maine citizens, we unanimously and aggressively oppose LD 1479, and we urge all members of this committee to join us in our opposition.”