It was a debate where dozens of House members wanted to be heard, and over the course of the 90 minute discussion, arguments were raised both for and against the bill. The vote on the legislation was 130 to 11.
Gov. Peter Shumlin opposes the legislation because he says “you can’t legislate common sense.” Barre Town Rep. Tom Koch supports the bill because he says it’s a matter of highway safety. He says the governor is half right.
“Mr. Speaker, there are those who might say that you cannot legislate common sense and frankly I agree,” said Koch. “But you can penalize somebody for placing others in danger because you failed to exercise common sense and that’s what this bill does.”
Studies were cited that compared the distractions associated with holding a cell phone to that of driving intoxicated. Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad urged members of the House to support the bill.
“Hand held cell phone use - like drunk and drugged driving - poses a significant threat that cries out for strong public policy and leadership,” said Grad.
Not everyone agreed. Some members questioned the difference of using GPS map programs on their cell phone and reading a paper map while they were driving and Dorset Rep. Patti Komline thought it was wrong to single out just hand held devices in the legislation. “I haven’t heard convincing enough evidence that speaking on your cell phone versus speaking with a hands free device is any safer,” said Komline. “And I hope when we pass this bill that we remember that. I believe this is possibly a token vote.”
The last person to speak in the debate was Cavendish Rep. Mark Huntley. Two years ago, his son Spencer was killed in a head on crash with a tractor trailer truck. Huntley told House members that at the time of the crash, his son was trying to change songs on his i-pod. Huntley said the bill was a step in the right direction.
“It pushes the ball down the field toward driver safety and ultimately that protects all of us,” said Huntley. “And so I strongly, strongly urge you to pass this bill. My vote will be for my son, Spencer.”
The legislation will come up for final approval in the House on Friday. If it passes, it will then be considered by the Senate and Senate leaders say they plan to bring the issue up in the coming weeks.