Sorry to be missing in action for the last week, but once things started to get confusing regarding the status of our two bills banning hand held cell phones by drivers, I put my communications on Pause until I could get a more definite idea of what was happening.
Unfortunately, up jumped some late in the session amendments. Even though these amendments offered minor, insignificant changes as the senators questioned what was meant by “holding” a personal communication device? Holding cocked between their shoulder and neck? Holding under their chin?, etc. all were discussed.
It was decided to add hold “in his hand” to the language which none of the supporters had any problem with, but ANY changes to the language at this stage meant that both bills had to go into a conference committee to be “conformed” and made identical. Not something anyone except those trying to scuttle the bills wanted.
3 Conferees are designated by the Senate (Stuart, Obenshain & Chafin) and 3 by the House (Collins, Rob Bell, & Bourne) but the Conference Committee doesn’t meet until 2/23, which is scheduled to be Session Adjournment, so I fear that adjournment will take place without the bills being voted on resulting in the dreaded “Left in Committee” verdict as we had received last year.
Not this time, however, as the Session is extended a day, primarily to deal with the Budget, and the Committee comes out with an amended version containing “hold, in his hand” which is not really problematic, but also adding “while physically manipulating the device to view, read, or enter data,” which makes the offense clearly not enforceable by Law Enforcement and therefore meaningless, just as the opponents were trying to do.
That amended version coming out of the Conference Committee sets off a lot of activity, with that report being rejected by the House by 52-40, another Conference Committee being appointed by the House (with the same legislators on it), but the Senate refusing to take any further action on it, so the bill is listed as “Failed to Pass in the Senate” just today, one day after the original scheduled adjournment.
A tough ending to a hard fought campaign (check out SB1341 on the www.lis.virginia.gov website to get your own copy of the machinations most of us have never seen the likes of previously) which proves how a tiny group of opponents can thwart the wishes of 36 senators and 70 delegates on an issue most feel whose time has come to become part of the Virginia Code.
A big Well Done to Janet Brooking and Drive Smart VA for organizing an excellent campaign that looked like we were going to be breaking out the champagne at the end of, but it wasn’t to be. Also excellent work by Champe Burnley, who rubbed off a lot of shoe leather and kept battling all the way even though he and I both were hit by some kind of bug in the midst of the session, and not feeling that great on that run of gloomy, rainy days.
Two other items of concern to us were added the Budget. The State is again prevented from acquiring the Dahlgren Trail and the convening of, “…a stakeholder group to assess the feasibility and costs associated with transferring sponsorship and maintenance support responsibilities for the Virginia Capital Trail from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Conservation and Recreation.”
Thus ends a tough State legislative session on a down note! Not sure I’ve got the stomach for another one, but hopeful that we can get the problems resolved next year somehow.