AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to outlaw the use of hand-held cellphones and other hand-held devices while driving has passed both chambers of the Maine Legislature.
The bill, versions of which have been debated and rejected for years in Maine, passed 85-60 Tuesday in the House and 21-14 last week in the Senate. The bill bars the use of hand-held devices but would preserve the legality of using phones capable of hands-free operation. The bill establishes penalties of $75 for a first offense and fines of up to $500 along with license suspensions for subsequent violations.
Arguments for and against the bill were similar to what they have been in the past: convenience versus driver safety. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former Maine secretary of state.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said the bill would be unfair to some, depending on the sophistication of their devices.
“I think we all understand that texting is a problem today,” he said. “I’m concerned about the underlying consequences here. We have many people and many vehicles today that do not have Bluetooth capability. Who does that burden fall upon? That falls primarily on the poor.”
Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, who is a building contractor, spoke on behalf of Mainers who need to transact business while driving.
“The mobile phone has become the most important ingredient in my business. It is my office,” he said. “I’m on the road three or four hours a day. If you take that hand-held device away from me I’m going to lose office time and I’m not going to be happy.”
Others said safety trumps other concerns.
“No one wants to impinge on people’s rights to freely do things they want to do but this is a safety issue,” Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, said. “It’s not a socioeconomic issue. It’s a safety issue.”
Texting while driving was outlawed in Maine in 2011 with the support of the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage. Repeated attempts to ban cellphone use by drivers have failed, including in 2015 when the House of Representatives voted it down 88-55.
The bill that passed Tuesday in the House faces more procedural votes in both chambers before it is sent to LePage for consideration. One hurdle it will have to overcome is its fiscal impact. The bill calls for $22,000 in new spending next year and $65,000 the year after, for the hiring of a part-time assistant clerk in the judicial branch.