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Hands-Free Cellphone Bill Unlikely to Become Law in Minnesota

Legislation that would make Minnesota the 17th state to ban drivers from using hand-held phones and electronic devices will not get a vote on the House floor, likely killing the measure for the fourth straight year.

Chief author Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, on Tuesday, said that the bill would not receive a vote on the floor.

“I’m astounded,” Uglem said. “It’s very saddening that we can’t act on something so important to Minnesotans.”

With six days left in the session, the bill’s authors and supporters still hope House leaders change course and put the bill to a vote. Efforts to get a vote on the measure in the state Senate have also been unsuccessful.

Advocate Vijay Dixit put lawmakers on notice that while the bill may die this year, the issue will not. “We will not go anywhere and we will see you at the polls,” he said. “”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was not immediately available for comment.

Dixit and scores of other families who have lost loved ones in crashes attributed to distracted driving have been pushing for the law since 2015, and felt they had a chance to get it passed this year. The bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, with 40 authors representing both parties signing on. The measure also had the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he would sign any bill that made it to his desk.

Dayton on Tuesday said the proposal is a “perfectly reasonable limitation … how many more deaths are we going to have to endure?” He added: “Every time one of these common-sense things that’s clearly in the public interest doesn’t go anywhere I wonder whose money is behind that, and I don’t know in this case.”

Polls also showed that a majority of Minnesotans also supported the measure.

That unsettled Tom Goeltz, whose daughter, Megan, 22, and her unborn baby, were killed when she was hit by a distracted driver as she sat at an intersection in Washington County in February 2016.

“This is so disappointing,” he said Tuesday. “They say, ‘Let’s put it off for another year.’ They are playing Russian roulette. Dozens of families will be impacted because they can’t make a decision”

Just last week the bill appeared to have life as it passed through the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, clearing the way for a floor vote.

“We are extremely disappointed legislative leadership continues to refuse to bring the hands-free bills forward,” said Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council. “Proven public safety measures shouldn’t have to wait another year.”

With 25 percent of crashes and 20 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in Minnesota attributed to distracted driving, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, called distracted driving the fastest-growing cause of death and injuries on the roads. He was one of the bill’s authors.

This month, Georgia became the 16th state to pass a hands-free bill. In the 15 other states that forbid motorists from using handheld phones, fatal crashes have dropped by an average of 16 percent within two years, according to the Minnesota Safety Council. In Minnesota, that would mean 53 fewer fatal crashes a year, said Mike Hanson, who heads the Office of Traffic Safety with the state Department of Public Safety.

“I’m numb,” Dixit said. “We had a chance and they blew it.”

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768