A Senate panel voted unanimously Monday to make it illegal to text while driving.
Under the terms of SB1334, violators would be subject to a $50 penalty if convicted of not only writing or sending a message on a cell phone or similar device but even of reading it. That fine would rise to $200 if the motorist were involved in an accident.
The 5-0 vote by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Public Debt sends the measure to the full Senate. There, the proposal by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, may stand its best chance ever of actually becoming law.
"This is a bill that truly will save lives," he said.
Melvin said residents of his district from both parties tell him they want this ban. He said that backing is particularly strong from the parents of teens.
"I can see the concern and almost fear in their eyes and their facial expression, worrying about their teenager losing their life texting while driving," he said. "That is the age group that unfortunately is the most affected."
Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, agreed that the practice is dangerous. She said anyone who has the absolute need to send or receive a message should "just pull over."
Melvin got an identical measure to the Senate floor last year only to have it fall one vote short.
Since that time, however, two Republican senators have resigned to pursue congressional races: Pamela Gorman and Jim Waring. Both voted against the bill; their replacements have not yet weighed in on their thoughts on the issue.
A third senator also running for Congress, Jonathan Paton, voted for Melvin's bill last year. Paton has not said when he will quit and whether that will be before or after this measure gets to the floor.
Melvin's effort also is getting a boost on another front: All the major cellular phone companies have agreed either to support or, at least, not to oppose the measure this year.