Proposal would forbid teen cell phone use while driving

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL sarah@newnan.com Georgia's teenage drivers would be forbidden from using cell phones while driving, except in an emergency, under a bill that passed the Georgia House Thursday. House Bill 23 prohibits the use of cell phones and similar electronic devices by Class D drivers under the age of 18. A violation would be punished by a fine of $50 to $100 and two points on the offender's driving record.
Teens who cause accidents while using a phone in violation of the law would automatically lose their licenses for 90 days or until their 18th birthday, whichever is sooner. There are exceptions for emergency situations. The bill passed 138-34 on "crossover day." Thursday was the 30th legislative day. If a bill doesn't make it through either the House or Senate by crossover day, it typically dies, though bills can be resurrected as amendments. Coweta's House members were split on the bill. Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, voted in favor. Smith "lived through that first huge debate years ago when we created the Class D license and made it stricter -- and it has worked," she said. Because teens are so inexperienced, she felt like the new rule was the right thing to do. Rep. Billy Horne, R-Sharpsburg, voted against the bill. "I thought the state was spreading it on a little too thick on that one," he said. He felt the automatic license suspension was a bit harsh, and that the punishment should fit the crime, not paint everyone with the same broad brush. Horne said he is very concerned about teens, and adults, texting while driving, but "I don't know that we as a legislature can pass a good law that would actually solve that problem without just totally overreaching in some cases." The texting bill was just one of 70 that hit the House floor on Thursday. The session began at 9 a.m. and ended just before 11 p.m. "I'm worn out. It is going to take me a week to recover from this week," Horne said. For Horne, the most important bills to pass were House Bills 481 and 482, the business success act bills. HB 481 gives employers a credit against their unemployment tax for hiring people who are currently receiving unemployment, and gives an income tax credit for every new hire who stays on at least two years. The bill also waives business start-up fees and waives the requirement for dealers to remit estimated sales tax liability. HB 482 calls for a state-wide referendum to consider eliminating the state ad valorem tax on business inventory. "In a time like this, we have got to do one thing, and that is get people back to work," Horne said. "We think that these pieces of legislation are going to do more toward doing that than any so-called stimulus coming down from Washington." Another bill provides an income tax credit for purchasing a home. Smith, as chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, was pushing a few natural resources bills. House Bill 158 requires that new multi-family residential buildings must provide for measurement, and separate billing, of water usage for each unit. The bill has been in the works for several years. "It took years of push forward, push back," Smith said. "Finally, a compromise was reached." There are many options to allow compliance with the bill. Smith is also excited about a "voluntary remediation" bill that makes it simpler for property owners to rehabilitate land that is contaminated. Typically, all property must be remediated to "drinking water standards," Smith said. That process is difficult and costly and not necessary for a site that has been, and will continue to be, an industrial site. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division "worked out with all the stakeholders what levels would be acceptable remediation of those properties that weren't at the drinking water standard," Smith said. Smith is also proud of House Resolution 338, which states that Georgia's development of its land and offshore energy resources will be done in a balanced manner, promoting energy independence while respecting the natural environment and protecting it for future generations, Smith said.


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