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    Saturday, December 7, 2019-4:48:53A.M.






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House OKs bill to restrict use of mobile phones while driving

THE House of Representatives on Thursday passed House Bill 21-35 which would restrict the use of mobile phones while driving.

Rep. Edmund Villagomez, right, talks with House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, back to the camera, during Thursday’s House session. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

All 14 House members present voted for the passage of H.B. 21-35, which was authored by Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez.

Reps. Ralph Yumul, Marco Peter, Richard Lizama, Tina Sablan and Sheila Babauta were absent.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Joel Camacho said it surprised him there is no CNMI law that bans the use of mobile phones while driving.

He said he was glad that “we’re taking this step,” noting that many states in the U.S. have passed similar legislation.

Public Defender Douglas Hartig, in a written comment, said the bill “seems well-reasoned and acceptable.”

The restriction, however, exempts law enforcers, emergency responders and healthcare providers on duty, and does not include equipment installed in the car.

H.B. 21-35 would impose a minimum fine of $250 and maximum of $1,000, and 30 days to six months imprisonment. Fifty percent of the fines will be deposited into an account created by the Department of Finance for the benefit of the Department of Public Safety, and the other 50 percent will be deposited in the usual manner provided for in the CNMI sentencing law.

The bill states that there are significant safety concerns regarding the widespread practice of using cellular telephones and other mobile electronic devices while operating motor vehicles.

Many vehicular accidents are the result of driving while texting, the bill added.

Citing the 2014 National Safety Council Annual Injury and Fatality Report, the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations said 26 percent of the nation’s car accidents involved the use of cell phones.

Villagomez authored a similar bill which passed 20th Legislature, but it was vetoed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres because it did not provide exemptions for emergency medical responders.