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'We Are United': State Legislature Finds Common Ground On Hands-Free Cellphone Bill

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's a change that would affect every Minnesota driver.

The state legislature is heading toward a prohibition on using cellphones while driving.

The new law would include not just texting, but talking on the phone, too. Similar proposals went nowhere last year.

A hands-free bill for cellphone use was stalled not just last year, but other years at the Capitol.

While it's not clear what final bill will emerge, it does appear there is agreement from top party leaders, including Gov. Tim Walz, that the Minnesota law will be changing.

At a news conference with all Minnesota's legislative leaders, the change in opinion was clear.

House Minority Leader and former House Speaker Kurt Daudt said, "It was our caucus that made the decision last year to not move forward with that bill. Issues like that just take time, and this is one that takes time to gain the support and the mass to come to fruition. I think that one will likely become law."

Governor Tim Walz said, "I appreciate the leadership here. We will sign a distracted driving bill this year if they get it to us."

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority leader Paul Gazelka signaled they are also on board for some type of legislation.

At a later news conference, a bipartisan group of Senate and House leaders called for a hands-free bill.

"We are united and determined that 2019 will be the year that Minnesota becomes the 17th state to pass a hands-free cellphone law," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis.

Activist Vijay Dixit, whose 19-year-old daughter Shreya was killed by a distracted driver in 2007 made an impassioned plea. He said, "It's a no-brainer; it's the right thing to do."

Later, Republican legislators suggested -- at minimum -- upping the current texting while driving penalty from $50 to $150 for a first offense; $250 for a second offense; and $500, plus confiscation of your cellphone, for a third offense.

The sponsor of the amped-up penalty for texting while driving admitted the odds of getting a bill that would confiscate your cell phone after a third offense might have trouble passing, but it's another indication that there is a will to pass some kind of crackdown in Minnesota on distracted driving.

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