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Federal action may change Melvin’s tune on texting issue

If Congress moves on a proposed legislation to ban text messaging while driving nationwide, it may shift support for the issue at the Arizona Legislature.

Sen. Al Melvin, a Tucson Republican who was one of two lawmakers to introduce bills to ban texting while driving in 2009, said he would oppose any law that would pull federal highway funding from states that don’t comply. His opposition to federal interference is so strong, he said, that he would refrain from sponsoring or even supporting such measures in the future.

Several Democratic U.S. senators, including New York’s Charles Schumer, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan proposed legislation on July 29 that would ban texting while driving anywhere in the U.S. According to media reports, the law would be similar to federal drunk driving legislation, which threatened to withhold 25 percent of federal highway funding from states that didn’t comply with federal standards.

“One of the major proponents was Chuck Schumer, who is no hero of mine by any means, and if he is going to be associated with this subject, with the federal threat to cut back on highway funds for states that don’t go along with it … I will divorce myself from the subject,” Melvin said. “I don’t want to be involved in that. If they’ve got these Democratic, liberal fingerprints all over it, I’m not going to be a party to that. I’m not. If anything, I would go the other way and try to make a legal issue out of it that they have in the interest of federalism and states’ rights.”

However, Arizona’s other texting-while-driving crusader, Democratic Rep. Steve Farley, said he fully supports a federal ban.

“I was the first legislator in the country to introduce that bill three years ago. Now, finally people are realizing we should’ve done it a long time ago,” he said. “I think it’s time. It would certainly make it easier when you’re driving in another state to know that you aren’t going to have truckers driving you off the road when they’re texting.”

The proposed Senate bill came on the heels of a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that showed truckers were 23 times more likely to get in an accident if they were texting while driving.

“All their scientists are basically saying this is even worse than drinking in terms of the amount of risk that you’re carrying when you are doing it,” Farley said.

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