Here's the skinny on cell phone, drunk driving bills
It was a glorious day in Annapolis: blue skies, perfect temperatures, the leisurely pace that sets in on the day the committees hold their parties. Just a perfect day for schmoozing and taking the temperature on transportation related bills.
Here’s where some of them stand:
Cell phone ban: According to Del. James Malone, chairman of the subcommittee handling the bill, the House plan is to bring two bills out of the subcommittee and committee Tuesday.
One will be the unamended Senate bill, which makes driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone a secondary offense (the cop can only stop you if you’re doing something else illegal in addition to yakking behind the wheel). The other will be the House bill with an amendment creating an exemption for truckers using press-and-talk radios.
The idea is that if the Senate accepts the House amendment and passes that bill again, the trucking industry is happy and that bill becomes law – presuming Gov. Martin O’Malley signs it. If the Senate bill passes the House, it goes to the governor without having to return to the Senate.
The two-pronged plan is a prudent response to the narrow margin by which the bill passed the Senate, 24-23. The House is seeking to avoid a conference committee that would give Senate foes another shot at killing the bill.
Of course, the bills will still have to muster majorities to repel killer amendments (in practical terms, any floor amendments) and for final House passage. But Malone is cautiously optimistic that will happen. If all goes according to plan, it could be a done deal by the end of next week.
Ignition interlock: The word on the street is that the bill that would make the technology that prevents people with alcohol system from starting their vehicles after a first-time drunk-driving conviction will pass this year – but only with an amendment that MADD and other proponents might have a hard time swallowing.
The bill, which easily passed the Senate, is expected to be amended in the House Judiciary Committee to require the devices for first-timers only when the perpetrator falls into the “super-drunk” category in blood-alcohol level. Whether that will be set at a .12 or .15 – as opposed to the 0.8 level that qualifies as driving under the influence -- is said to be the only question.
The reasoning seems to be that the General Assembly can always come back and strengthen the law but that it wouldn’t ever have the option of dialing it back – even if it proved unworkable. Best guess: The Senate accepts the compromise, proponents declare a qualified victory and the issue comes back in future session.
Traffic court: The bill that would put the burden on people who receive a ticket in a traffic case to request a trial if they want one appears to be on its way to passage. There are minor differences between the bill that passed the Senate and the one approved by the House Judiciary Committee but nothing that can’t be worked out well before the eleventh hour. Passage would be a big victory for the state’s police chiefs, who believe the change could save them a ton in overtime.