Frustrated that drivers are still texting behind the wheel, Minnesota has decided to make them pay even more for their crime.

Beginning Saturday, a $225 increase in the texting fine goes into effect, along with other new state laws.

The increase is in addition to the current $50 fine and will apply to second and subsequent convictions. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 3,200 texting-while-driving citations were issued in 2014, a 278 percent jump since 2010.

Matthew Riggs, whose 20-year-old brother was killed in 2013 by a driver who reportedly was texting, spoke through tears Thursday at a department news conference. “David will not get to meet his niece and she will never meet her uncle, which isn’t fair,” he said.

Last year, 61 deaths and more than 7,000 injuries in the state were attributed to either driver inattention or distraction.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein, co-author of the legislation, said in a statement, “The emotional testimony we heard, the statistics and the stories of those tragically impacted by distracted driving cannot be ignored.”

Laws limiting police use of license plate readers, expanding access to experimental drugs for terminally ill patients, increasing protection for state security hospital employees and granting the study of an emergency alert system for missing people with mental illnesses will also take effect Saturday.

In response to privacy concerns, automated license plate readers, devices already in use by several law enforcement agencies, will be allowed to collect only license plate numbers, time and location data and vehicle-related photos.

Under the Right to Try Act, terminally ill patients as a last resort will be to try experimental drugs and medical devices that have passed the first phase of a clinical trial, but are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At least 12 other states have recently enacted similar legislation sometimes called “Dallas Buyers Club” laws in reference to a 2013 film about AIDS patients.

“These legislative efforts, although they are phrased in the context of patients with life-threatening disease, really challenge at a fundamental level our current systems of drug evaluation and approval,” wrote University of Minnesota professor James Neaton with two colleagues in a 2014 journal article.

The “Silver Alert” emergency system for missing people, especially seniors, suffering brain injuries, Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses will be the subject of an 11-member study group charged by a new law to examine the implementation of a system in Minnesota.

At the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, mentally ill patients and those deemed dangerous will now face felony charges for assaulting employees. Previously, such patients faced low-level criminal charges.

Other new laws would:

• Make the purchase or acquisition of a firearm on behalf of a person not lawfully allowed one a gross misdemeanor.

• Require the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to perform American Indian tribal background checks.

• Mandate a certificate of marriage dissolution for divorces.

• Require more education for mothers of babies diagnosed with chromosome disorders.

• Increase the penalty for reckless driving to a gross misdemeanor if the action results in great bodily harm or death.

 

@MarcusEHoward