A rare show of bipartisanship on a common-sense issue

By: 
Chuck Kajer, The New Prague Times

Last week, both the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate passed a Hands-Free Cell Phone bill that was then signed by Gov. Tim Walz.

The law had tremendous support in both the House, where it passed 107-19, and the Senate, where it passed 48-12. It becomes law on August 1.

The measure makes holding a cellphone while driving illegal in all but rare instances. A first offense carries a $50 fine, but the penalty would top $200 for repeat offenses.

For years, many legislators resisted the urge to pass such a bill, noting it was already illegal to text and drive and arguing that distracted driving laws were sufficient.

But each year, supporters of the measure - including two New Prague area families who lost loved ones due to distracted drivers - grew in number and put intense pressure on legislators to pass the bill. The bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Republican Scott Newman of Hutchinson, had opposed the measure in the past, but was persuaded to support it after several changes were made. Both of the area’s House members, Bob Vogel (R-Elko New Market) and Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) and Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) voted for the bill.

Provisions in the bill allow the use of a phone’s GPS system, however the driver cannot use the keyboard or scroll while driving. The measure would make holding a cellphone while driving illegal in all but rare instances.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, one in five crashes in the state over the past five years were due in part to distracted driving, many of those due to use of cell phones. States that have enacted laws similar to Minnesota’s have seen a drop in both distracted driving crashes and deaths.

We applaud the bipartisanship shown in passing the bill. The Legislature listened to the people, found common ground and took action. That is the way government is supposed to work. The result will benefit all Minnesotans.

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