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Senate passes texting ban, battle now shifts to House

Sometimes, the party description next to a lawmaker’s name becomes the extra hand that helps push legislation forward – and that’s exactly what happened with a bill that would ban texting while driving.

The Senate voted to approve S1334 on March 22. The vote was 19 in favor and 10 against.

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.

Democrats sponsored similar bills during the past three regular legislative sessions. But it didn’t gain traction until this year when it was sponsored by a Republican.

“I think only a Republican could have done it,” said Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican from Tucson who sponsored S1334.

But the work on the texting ban is not yet over. It will need committee approval before going to the House floor for a vote. And Melvin was quick to point out that the bill will need Democratic support to pass.

Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu City, said texting while driving can be cited under reckless-driving statutes. He said the bill waters down the state’s reckless driving statutes because the fine under the measure is $50 for texting while driving, instead of $250 if cited under the state’s reckless driving laws.

Sen. Ed Bunch, a Republican from Scottsdale, voted for the bill despite his reservations about “nanny-state” legislation.

“It means being responsible for yourself, but it also means being responsible to other people so that you don’t put them in danger,” he said, adding texting while driving is simply irresponsible.

It took persistence for Melvin to get the bill through the Senate. A vote on the bill had been postponed a few times, and it failed when it was first brought to the Senate floor on March 2.

Before that, Rep. Steve Farley, a Democrat from Tucson, had tried and failed three times to pass similar legislation.

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