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Bill Restricting Cellphones In Cars Comes Back

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) — For a while, it seemed Colorado lawmakers had hung up on a proposal to restrict cellphone use in cars this year, but it turns out the bill was just on hold.

Last month, the proposal failed to get enough votes to pass the House Transportation Committee, but a vote to shelve it did not succeed, either. So now the bill has a rare second chance at life when it’s put up for a committee vote next week.

Aurora Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton, the bill sponsor, is trying to make the most of it by pitching three amendments to try to gain votes, including leveling stiffer fines for violators, which is what some lawmakers wanted.

“It was obvious that there wasn’t a disagreement with the policy, but just how we were getting to the practice,” Melton said.

Offenses would be punishable by a $100 fine for the first citation and $200 fee for a second. That’s double the amount in each case than what the bill initially called for.

Colorado already prohibits texting while driving, along with 40 other states and the Districting of Columbia, so Melton’s proposal seeks to curb cellphone use in cars even more. Melton argues that’s necessary because the proliferation of smartphones has made distracted driving more prevalent.

If the bill becomes law, Colorado would join 12 states and D.C. in requiring drivers to use a hands-free device while talking on the phone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Melton is also suggesting other modifications to his bill, including making violations secondary offenses everywhere, meaning that law enforcement could issue a citation only if a driver was stopped for another violation first. Initially, his bill would’ve allowed law enforcement to immediately cite violators in school or construction zones.

Some lawmakers worried that having different enforcement standards for different locations would cause confusion.

The third change in the bill would allow people to use ear buds to make calls, in addition to being able to use blue-tooth devices.

All those proposed amendments still need to be approved by lawmakers. But it appears Melton has gone a long way in convincing one key lawmaker.

“Those were my big three concerns, and if those are fixed, I’ll be supporting the bill,” Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said of Melton’s amendments. Moreno voted no on advancing the bill last month, but then, in an unusual maneuver, voted against shelving the bill altogether. When lawmakers vote against a bill in committee, they usually then vote in favor of postponing the bill indefinitely.

“Distracted driving is a problem, and I appreciate Rep. Melton’s efforts to try address some of those concerns,” Moreno said.

BY IVAN MORENO, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) 

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