Senate acts on scores of bills, shoots down texting ban

Luige del Puerto//June 22, 2009

Senate acts on scores of bills, shoots down texting ban

Luige del Puerto//June 22, 2009

Bills to ban texting while driving, smoking in a car with a minor fail
The Arizona Senate has rejected legislation that aimed to ban texting while driving on all state roadways.

Senators also have voted down a measure that would have prohibited smoking in a car if a minor is in the vehicle.

Those were two of about 80 measures lawmakers tackled June 22 as they raced to complete work on as many bills as possible with just eight days to go before the fiscal year ends.

Sen. Al Melvin, author of the bill banning sending or receiving text messages while operating a motor vehicle, said the legislation is virtually dead this year. Melvin said he would try it again next year.

Lawmakers crossed party lines to either support or reject the legislation. In the end, S1443 failed by a vote of 14-15, two votes short of the number needed to advance.

Melvin, a Tucson Republican, said he was counting on Democratic support for his bill, but only six Democrats voted for it. Five others voted against the measure. Meanwhile, eight Republicans supported the bill, and 10 others opposed it.

Melvin’s expectations of Democratic support were based on the fact that a Democratic representative, Steve Farley of Tucson, has been trying to pass the legislation for a couple of years now. Farley’s legislation has failed to even get a hearing in the House.

In addition, former Sen. Charlene Pesquiera, a Democrat who held Melvin’s seat but did not seek re-election last year, also championed the legislation. In 2008, her caucus colleagues supported her efforts to get it passed as a floor amendment.

Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia was among those who balked at the legislation this year.

“At some point, no matter what laws we make really will not have much of an impact in what our citizens do or what we as individuals do,” Garcia said. There are tough laws against drunk-driving, but people still drink and drive, he said.

Melvin’s bills have drawn public interest for a couple of reasons. For one, widespread use of cell phones on highways and other roadways means the legislation would impact the daily lives of thousands of drivers.

Also, it’s uncommon for a conservative senator to champion a measure that other conservative lawmakers often view as chipping away at individual responsibility. In Melvin’s case, he has authored three measures that tend to fall under this category—something that has surprised even some Democrats.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said Melvin’s S1440, which would have prohibited smoking in cars when minors are inside, was “too far-reaching.”

“I hate cigarette smoke, and I really don’t think children should be exposed to it,” Rios said, “(But) it just was too far-reaching for me personally. And then the other thing that crossed my mind is — heaven forbid — we give (Maricopa County Sheriff) Joe Arpaio another reason to stop people.”

The bill went down by a vote of 9-to-20. Again, lawmakers crossed party lines to support or oppose it.

Some Republicans argued that Melvin’s bills promote a “nanny state.”

But Melvin disagreed with that argument.

“I am just trying to save lives, and I don’t understand the political-philosophical purity involved here. I really don’t. I just don’t see it,” he said.

In addition to Melvin’s measures, senators also voted on some 80 measures on June 22, passing most and rejecting a few.

Bills advanced by the Senate include:

*S1002, which prohibits state elected officials, including legislators, from using public money to produce public communication such as print or broadcast media announcements that refer to the elected official or an official’s employee unless it is a matter of public concern or essential in executing the duties of his or her elected office.

*S1050, which requires the use of a child-restraint system — a booster seat — by children between the ages of five and nine who are less than four feet and nine inches tall.

*S1088, which expands the definition of domestic violence to include a current or previous romantic or sexual relationship.

*S1421, which establishes a statutory cap on secondary property taxes levied by fire districts.

*SCR1025, a ballot measure asking voters in 2010 to constitutionally prohibit the use of taxpayer money to fund any political candidate or campaign for the Legislature or statewide office.

*HCR2019, which will ask voters in 2010 to constitutionally prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.