Teen texting bill gets chance

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PHOENIX — Members of the Arizona House are finally going to get the chance to decide whether the state’s newest drivers should also be using their cellphones.

But the future of the newly resurrected measure remains in doubt, with even the House GOP leadership divided.

Members of the House Rules Committee on Monday agreed that SB 1080 is constitutional and in proper form for consideration. That was never really in question as the bill has already been approved by the Senate.

It had been stalled, however, when Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who chaired the committee, refused to clear it to go to the full House. Lovas said he feared it might lead to even greater restrictions.

Lovas is now gone, having quit the legislature last week to take a post in the Trump administration.

That allowed House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to name himself to the position. And Mesnard, who supports the legislation, got the panel to give its OK, setting the stage for floor debate later this week.

The measure says that new drivers — those in the first six months of getting a license — cannot operate any hand-held communication devices. That means not just no texting and emailing but also no chatting with friends and family.

Arizona is one of just a handful of states with absolutely no specific limits on the use of cell phones while driving.

But significant opposition remains.

“I think it’s a parental authority thing,” said House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

“I had three sons and they all had phones and cars,” he told Capitol Media Services. “I just told them not to do it, I told them there’d be consequences.”

And Allen said he’s convinced his sons, all now grown, always obeyed his admonition.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, also hopes the measure falters.

“I think it’s already against the law,” she said, saying police can cite motorists for driving distracted if they weave in traffic because they’re on the phone.

But Townsend said the bigger concern is that this narrowly crafted measure won’t be the last word. She said once Arizona bans texting while driving for teens, it would just be a small step to expand that to cover all motorists, something Townsend said most lawmakers are unwilling to do.

Mesnard acknowledged that fear among fellow Republicans,

“I have admittedly had concerns in the past about the so-called ‘camel’s nose (under the tent)’ argument that once you start going down the road you don’t stop,’’ he said. But Mesnard said he’s convinced that if this measure becomes law there will be no effort to expand it, at least for the next few years.

More significant, Mesnard said the fear of what might happen in the future should not deter legislators from imposing rules of the newest teen drivers.

“I’m willing to make a distinction between teens and adults,” he said.

Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who pushed the measure through the Senate, said her legislation really is setting no new precedents. She pointed out there already are special restrictions on new drivers, including limiting the number of unrelated teens who can be in the vehicle as well as prohibiting them from driving after midnight unless it is to go to work or school.

No date has been set for House floor debate.