The Farley Report from Phoenix #262: 1-24-17

Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 25) at the State Capitol, traffic safety advocates from around the state and country will gather for the Arizona Distracted Driving Summit. If you can make it here, by all means join the hundreds of others who will educate each other and meet with their legislators on this vital topic.

If you can’t come to Phoenix, you can still share in the excitement — I’m focusing this Report on currently active distracted driving legislation in the Capitol landscape now that the main opponent of these laws is no longer here. 

Read on after the Farley Report Pledge Break…

_______

As you may already know, I am strongly considering a run for governor in 2018. While I have not yet made up my mind to run, I will need strong support from the Arizona Democratic Party in order to win. That’s why I am focusing on raising money into the state party, and I want to see how much support you may be willing to offer to help this happen.

—> If you live anywhere in the U.S., please contribute what you can to the Arizona Democratic Party right now to build our campaign to transform our state for the better. Thank you for the support. CLICK HERE TO GIVE TODAY.

______

—> Farley Report readers will recall that I was the first legislator in the country to introduce a bill banning driving while texting in January 2007. I have continued to introduce such bills and work across the aisle with lawmakers of all political stripes (including former Senator Al Melvin!) to make our streets safer. Over the years I have met scores of victims’ families who have sought me out to share their stories and offer to help. Their courage gives me the resolve to never stop until we get this done. 

My colleagues and I have been thwarted each year by one man — former Senate President Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert). He used his powers as transportation chair in House and Senate, and then as President to block the bills single-handedly each session. In 2015, my bill passed unanimously out of the most conservative committee in the Senate, but the President then told the chairs of the other three committees to which it was assigned that any decision to hear my bill would cause him to kill all of their bills.   

Senator Biggs is now a Member of Congress, and that means he is no longer able to use the levers of power in the Arizona Legislature to block the will of the 92% of Arizonans — Independent, Republican, and Democratic — who want the law and want it now. 

In conversations with members of both parties, in and out of leadership, there is a strong spirit that we can finally get this behind us and join the other 48 states (and many Arizona cities and counties) that already have some kind of statewide ban on the use of portable electronic devices while driving.  

Bills have already been introduced (and I know of at least one more that will be) by multiple Republicans and Democrats. One of those bills (SB1080) was heard in the Senate Transportation Committee today, a cautious approach sponsored by Sen. Karen Fann (R-Prescott) with the support of the AAA that would ban cell phone use while driving for novice drivers during the first six months of their license, if they are between 16 and 18 years old. 

I’m concerned that this may be worse than nothing. In effect, it says to new teen drivers (and everyone else!) that once they turn 16-1/2, driving while texting is A-OK. I can just imagine snapchat-while-driving parties to celebrate a 16-1/2 birthday, much like what happens with drinking on a 21st birthday. And it ignores the facts that adults are the biggest problem here — out of all the collisions caused by distracted driving in the past year, only 10% were caused by drivers 16-18. 

During the committee hearing, family members of victims killed by distracted drivers shared gut-wrenching testimony of how their loved ones’ killers got away with slaps on the wrist because there was no statewide law banning distracted driving. Jennifer Smith who flew in from Texas to talk about how she lost her mom, and she also read a letter from the family of Officer Tim Huffman who was killed by a distracted driver in Yuma several years ago.

The family members — and the members of the insurance and cellphone industries who testified — shared that we really need a statewide ban for everyone to make a difference. This tiny little bill may be valuable as a first step, but won’t make a difference until we go all the way. 

I heard from Chairman Bob Worsley that the difficult path of such bills over the past eleven sessions means that we need to take “baby steps” and then assess when we can go further. I would argue to the contrary now that the one road block we’ve had over that time has been removed — former Senator Biggs — now is the time to move forward with a strong, bipartisan statewide ban for everyone.  

I will continue to work to get a hearing for that ban (sponsored by anyone, not just me), either in committee or on the floor, and I believe that the strong testimony in committee today and the strong support of the Summit tomorrow will make that task easier.  

—> Here are the other distracted driving and traffic safety bills currently being run in the Arizona Legislature. Others may still be introduced in the next week to ten days. Feel free to contact legislators to let them know what you think – especially committee chairs to which the bills are assigned, the Senate President, and the House Speaker. As opportunities to testify arise, consider coming to committees to add your voice.

SB 1049 - text messaging while driving; prohibition, Sponsor: Senator John Kavanagh

This is a statewide texting ban for everyone, but does not ban reading Facebook, Snapchat, texts, emails, or anything else on your smartphone while driving. It also does not ban inputting visual messages. In its current form, it would not have stopped Officer Huffman from being killed. Reading is as dangerous as writing in the many studies that have been published. 1049 could well be the bill that makes it through, since it is sponsored by a conservative Republican, but it needs to be amended to ban reading as well.

Below are the five distracted driving bills I am sponsoring this year. I am not expecting any of them to go the distance with my name on them. Sadly, that’s the way this legislature works — most of my successful bills have been signed into law with a Republican sponsor at the top of the page. But the name at the top is not important — it’s enacting the law and saving lives. I will seek to find a home for the language on these bills — a home where success is most likely.

Note that in the legal language of all my bills I have made a conscious effort to use the word “collision” instead of the word “accident”. Collisions resulting from distracted driving are caused by poor judgment on behalf of the driver, and are not accidents where no one is at fault. They don’t just happen.  

SB 1135 -  handheld communications devices; driving; prohibition

Statewide hands-free only law, like the law recently enacted in Oro Valley, AZ; current law in 18 states.

SB 1086 - sentencing; aggravating factor; texting

Just like using a gun in the commission of a crime gets more jail time, this allows judges to add jail time for the use of a cellphone while driving in the injury or death caused by a vehicle crash. This can really get into the heads of people considering texting while driving. It was actually developed out of a brainstorming session I had with former President Andy Biggs.  

SB 1087 - wireless communication device; driving; prohibition

Statewide ban on the use of a handheld device to read or write a written or visual message while driving. This is the language for an ideal statewide ban on texting while driving that covers all forms of texting, including social media. 

SB 1088 - vehicles; collisions; injury; texting; penalty

Allows judges to suspend a driver’s license if the driver has killed or injured someone while using a cellphone and driving.

SB 1085 - vulnerable users of public ways

Protects bicyclists, pedestrians, construction workers, people on tractors, first responders, and disabled people who are adjacent to or using a roadway from vehicular assault in a number of ways; establishes that throwing objects at vulnerable users or forcing them off the road are crimes. This was developed during a long group of stakeholder meetings and is modeled on Florida law.  

Please urge your legislator to reduce the American carnage on our roadways and support these bills. 

—> To end on some good news, two of my public safety bills passed unanimously today from the same Senate Transportation Committee.

SB 1073 – license plate covers; prohibition

Bans the use of license plate covers intended to block identification of the vehicle. These covers can especially obscure plate numbers from law enforcement and witnesses to crimes in low-angle sunlight. 

Like many people, Vice-chair Karen Fann was surprised that we don’t already make it illegal to obscure a plate with these coverings. After all, we require license plates for a reason — to identify a car to law enforcement and witnesses to crimes. This bill will correct that oversight and stop bad guys from concealing their vehicle’s identity. It is supported by the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona. 

Speaking of license plates, the second bill to pass was my… 

SB 1074 – special license plates; standard design

Creates a new standard design for new special plates with a 3” square to the side and a slogan at the bottom for customization by the benefiting organization. Does not affect current special plates; only future. 

You’ll recognize this bill from 2016 and 2015, when it passed out of the Senate only to be tossed into the former House Speaker’s drawer, never to be heard from again in those sessions. There are currently more than 60 specialty plates, with wildly varying designs. County sheriffs are increasingly concerned with how difficult it has become to identify Arizona vehicles used in the commission of a crime. This bill puts all new special plates on a standard Arizona plate background so that they are easily recognizable in the few seconds it takes for a car to drive away.

Now that there is a new House Speaker who does not make decisions in a purely partisan fashion, I believe the bill will succeed on its own merits.  Next stop for both bills, Rules Committee and the Senate Floor. 

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

If you like my representation and want to keep me in office, CONTRIBUTE TODAY!

Paid for by Friends O’Farley