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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s judicial branch said Friday it would lower the fine for a first violation of the new law banning the use of handheld devices while driving from $230 to $85 after the lawmaker who championed the bill said the initial amount was higher than intended.
The new sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the co-chair of the Legislature’s transportation committee, went into effect on Thursday alongside 560 other laws passed by the Maine Legislature in 2019. The higher fine was set in a schedule released on Wednesday by Susan Oram, the chief judge of Maine’s District Court system.
Oram had the authority to set it because the law simply said the fine would be “not less than $50 for the first offense” and “not less than $250” for subsequent offenses, which the judiciary said was pegged slightly lower than a base $250 fine for text messaging while driving after risks of the new violation was considered.
In a Friday statement, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said while she supported Oram’s approach, the judiciary would set the fine at $85 for the first violation “eliminate any confusion” and to recognize the “Legislature’s apparent expectation.”
That move will lower the fine to $85 for a first offense for six months and the Legislature will have to permanently lower it when in comes back in January 2020 for it to remain at that level, which was the focus of public discussion around the law as it was being considered.
Diamond spoke with Saufley about the situation on Thursday and said he was “very pleased” with the move on Friday, saying he would submit a 2020 bill to keep the fine lower within a few days and that it should pass the Legislature easily..
“I think the most important thing that we had our word out there and we wanted to make sure people could trust it,” Diamond said. “That’s why I was so adamant about finding a solution.”