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Texting ban squeaks through in Senate debate

No legislation is ever dead – not while lawmakers are in session.

The dictum proved true on March 4, when a Republican senator from Tucson managed to revive a bill that would ban texting while driving.

The bill faltered during a debate on March 2. It was finally approved during the Committee of the Whole deliberation on March 4.

This time the measure passed comfortably. 17 senators supported it during a standing division vote.

The bill’s next stop is a full Senate vote, which is likely to happen in the next few days.

On March 2, senators were split on the issue – literally.

That day, S1334 failed to clear the bar during the Committee of the Whole session by a roll-call vote of 11-11.

But its sponsor, Melvin, vowed to revive the measure. And in the second round, he brought in reinforcements.

“Frankly, Senator Carolyn Allen, she was up in her office when we were voting. She told me if she had known, she would be down here and it would have passed,” Melvin said, referring to the March 2 deliberation.

Allen was among seven senators who were not present during the debate.

She and several others were present on March 4 to tip the balance.

It was Melvin’s second attempt in two years to ban texting while driving.

The bill’s supporters said it’s meant to save lives.

Sen. Barbara Leff, a Republican from Paradise Valley, said, “I cannot see how you can ever be safe to be texting while you are operating a motor vehicle. When you are texting you are looking down. Your eyes are not on the road.”

But Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu City, said texting while driving and other dangerous activities, such as eating behind the wheel, already are punishable under existing reckless driving laws.

Plus, it would be nearly impossible to enforce laws against texting while driving.

“If the operator of the vehicle said “I wasn’t texting. I was dialing a phone number.” What happens then?” Gould asked. “If the police officer asks for your phone, he is violating your Fourth Amendment right. It is an illegal search.”

The bill would prohibit using cell phones or other technical devices to write, send or read a written message. The bill would not apply to making or receiving calls.

Violators would face a $50 fine. But if the driver commits the violation and is involved in an accident, the civil penalty would be $200.

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