Smoking, texting while driving bans shot down - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Smoking, texting while driving bans shot down

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Posted: Monday, June 22, 2009 6:18 pm | Updated: 3:08 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Adults will remain free to light up while their children are in their vehicles and send text messages while driving. They even will be able to let their children ride around in the back of their pickup trucks.

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But any children younger than 9 will have to be in booster seats.

Without debate, the Senate on Monday voted 20-9 to reject the proposal by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, to make it illegal for adults to expose children to tobacco smoke, at least in a vehicle. Melvin, pushing the bill on behalf of the American Cancer Society, said he believes it is wrong for adults to subject youngsters, who have no say about who drives them where, to secondhand tobacco smoke.

SB1440, however, ran up against concerns by some lawmakers that it amounts to too much intrusion by government into the decisions made by parents. Violators would have been fined $50 for each minor in the vehicle.

The Citizens Defense League, which mainly lobbies for looser gun laws, also objected, saying the law would give police a new excuse to stop and question motorists.

Melvin did only slightly better with his measure which would have made it a crime to send or receive text messages while driving: It was rejected on a 15-14 vote.

Proponents said that texting takes a driver's attention away from the road. SB1443 would fine offenders $50, a penalty that automatically would increase to $200 if there was an accident.

Monday's vote came even after Melvin agreed to narrow the scope of his measure, eliminating a separate provision which would have made it illegal to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device.

Melvin could not even get a vote by the full Senate on SB1439, which would have made it illegal for anyone younger than 17 to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. It did not reach the floor on Monday, having been held in the Senate Rules Committee.

The first-term lawmaker acknowledged after the votes that he didn't get the support of most of the members of his own Republican Party who questioned whether all the measures amounted to too much government intrusion. But Melvin said he doesn't share their views.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," he said. "I don't understand the philosophical purity of people voting against it en masse. But that's the way it is."

Senators, however, were more amenable to legislation by Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, to expand existing laws on who needs to be in a special restraint.

Current law already mandates special child seats or carriers for anyone younger than 5. That often takes the form of a carrier that can be hooked to a seat belt, often with the child facing backwards.

Once a child turns 5, though, the only law that applies is the one which says all children younger than 18 have to be properly belted in the vehicle. SB1050 would mandate the use of a "booster seat" for any child who is younger than 9 and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Backers said car and truck seats and seat belts are not designed for anyone shorter than that, resulting in injuries when a vehicle is involved in an accident. The bill now goes to the House.

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