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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
RICHMOND--State lawmakers were in a frenzy of bill-passing Monday, facing a midnight deadline Tuesday to finish most of their legislation so those bills can be heard by the other house.
With the exception of the state budget and some resolutions, any bill not acted upon by midnight tonight will die.
So both houses spent most of Monday in floor sessions, approving bills on everything from banning texting while driving to delaying the use of drones.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
Bills to ban texting while driving, with a hefty fine, are moving through the General Assembly.
The House advanced its version on the floor and will take a final vote today, while a Senate committee approved its bill Monday morning. The full Senate will also vote on the bill today.
The bills would make text-ing while driving a primary offense, meaning that police could stop a driver they suspected was texting.
But opponents in the Senate Courts of Justice committee said it would essentially let police pull over drivers simply for looking down, since officers would have no way of knowing if a driver was texting or not.
The bills are a result of legislative efforts to clarify that texting while driving is considered reckless driving. They provide a $250 fine for the first offense for drivers pulled over for texting, and $500 for subsequent offenses. There are enhanced penalties--a minimum $500 fine--for a driver charged with reckless driving if also found to be texting.
Safe-driving advocates back the bill; Martha Meade of AAA Mid-Atlantic said that in the time it takes to look down at a text, "a driver is traveling the length of a football field blindfolded."
But lawyers on the Senate committee had issues with it.
"This doesn't make text-ing a primary offense. This makes picking up a handheld communications device in a vehicle a primary offense," said Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford. "Because an officer cannot tell the difference."
Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, a former police officer, said later that the bill complicates the issue "tremendously" instead of fixing it. He said police might have to get a search warrant for a driver's phone, to prove the driver was texting when an accident happened.