Legislation that would have made Minnesota the 17th state to forbid drivers from using handheld phones and electronic devices likely will not get a vote on the House floor this year, the bill’s chief author said Tuesday, killing the measure for the fourth consecutive year.
“I’m astounded,” said chief House author Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin. “It’s very saddening that we can’t act on something so important to Minnesotans.”
With six days left in the session, the bill’s authors and supporters still hope House leaders change course and put the bill to a vote. Efforts to advance the measure in the state Senate have also been unsuccessful.
Advocate Vijay Dixit put lawmakers on notice that while the bill may die this year, the issue will not. “We will not go anywhere and we will see you at the polls,” he said. “More people will die. The number of grieving families will grow. It’s shameful. It’s very sad.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was not immediately available for comment. Uglem, who said some of his colleagues were concerned that a hands-free law would infringe on their personal rights, said he was “very disappointed” in Republican leadership for not allowing a vote on the bill.
Dixit and scores of others with families who have lost loved ones because of distracted driving have been pushing for the law since 2015, and they felt they had a chance to get it passed this year. The bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, with 40 authors representing both parties signing on. The measure also had the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he would sign any bill that made it to his desk.
Dayton said Tuesday that the proposal is a “perfectly reasonable limitation.” He added, “How many more deaths are we going to have to endure?”
A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll also showed that a large majority of Minnesotans — 79 percent — said talking on a cellphone while driving should be illegal.
The bill’s foundering prospects this year disappointed Tom Goeltz, whose pregnant daughter, Megan, 22, was killed when she was hit by a distracted driver at an intersection in Washington County in February 2016.
“They say, ‘Let’s put it off for another year.’ They are playing Russian roulette,” Goeltz said. “Dozens of families will be impacted because they can’t make a decision.”
Just last week the bill appeared to have life as it passed through the House Ways and Means Committee, clearing the way for a floor vote.
“We are extremely disappointed legislative leadership continues to refuse to bring the hands-free bills forward,” said Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council. “Proven public safety measures shouldn’t have to wait another year.”
Georgia this month became the 16th state to pass a hands-free bill. In the 15 other states that forbid motorists from using handheld phones, fatal crashes have dropped by an average of 16 percent within two years, according to the Minnesota Safety Council. In Minnesota, that would mean 53 fewer fatal crashes a year
“I’m numb,” Dixit said. “We had a chance and they blew it.”