"I think it's not the most effective way to get my attention -- to threaten me with a criminal charge," he said.
House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, dispelled the personal rights issue, noting the societal costs of dealing with unbelted accident victims.
"Your freedom is going to cost me money, because my health insurance rates are going to go up," he said. "Let's not make this an issue of freedom or not freedom."
Miley noted that even protections under the First and Second amendments to the Constitution are not absolute, and said of the bill, "The fact is, it's going to save lives. It's going to save money."
In 1993, nearly a decade after it was first introduced, the Legislature passed a secondary seat-belt law. That law made it a traffic violation to not wear seat belts, but charges can be cited only after an officer has stopped a driver for a separate traffic offense.
Since then, efforts to pass a primary offense law have died almost annually in House committees.
Under the law, failure to wear a seat belt will be a primary offense, punishable by a $25 fine, but with no points on the driver's record.
The bill also prevents auto insurers from canceling coverage for violations of the seat-belt law, or because of state laws that prohibit using a cellphone or texting while driving.
It now goes to the Senate, which has advanced primary-offense seat-belt bills on numerous occasions, including a bill that passed the Senate in 2012 on a 30-4 vote.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.