Senate Unanimously Passes Montigny Cell Phone Ban
BOSTON — After 15 years of trying, it looks as if Senator Mark Montigny's proposed ban on handheld cell phone use while driving is finally about to become the law of the land in the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday unanimously approved the legislation filed by Montigny (D-New Bedford). It had previously passed the Senate in 2016 and 2017, but died in the House of Representatives. This time, however, the House finally passed its own version of the bill last month.
Moments after leaving the Senate chamber Thursday afternoon, Montigny returned to his office along with family members of some of the victims of distracted driving and spoke to WBSM News by phone.
"It is bittersweet. There is no celebration," Montigny said. "We've worked for years with these families who have lost sons and daughters and fathers and mothers, and there's no excuse (it took 15 years to pass)."
"We've passed it over and over in the Senate, and the only thing that's changed since we passed the original texting ban is that more and more people have died. There are more distractions on the road. People are now involved in social media, and they're compiling their life story while they're driving a 3,000-pound killing machine," he said.
Montigny believes the difference now isn't so much the politicians themselves changing course on their thinking, but rather them responding to the concerns of their constituency.
"The public has evolved very significantly (on this issue)," Montigny said. "It went from the public arguing 'don't tell me how to run my life' to the public calling and clamoring for change, because everybody has experienced either some kind of tragedy, or they've been cut off, or they've watched a distracted driver cause havoc on the road. So the public has absolutely changed since I started filing this."
Now, the House and Senate versions of the bill must be reconciled before the final bill passes to Governor Charlie Baker's desk to be signed into law. Montigny said that while there are differences between the two versions of the bill, he thinks reaching a compromise shouldn't be too difficult.
"For instance, we have it in the Senate bill that with a third infraction, you will receive (an insurance) surcharge," he said. "We think it's horrible because nobody likes a surcharge, but that's exactly what we're trying to do. We're trying to stop people from killing innocent people."
And there is also the issue of possible increased racial profiling, which is one of the primary concerns of those who opposed the bill.
"We've addressed it, and we're working with both the activists and law enforcement, and I think we're going to have a good compromise on that also," Montigny said.
Montigny believes the legislature can get the bill on Governor Charlie Baker's desk by the end of the year, and he is confident Baker will sign the bill into law, especially after he used some of Montigny's language in his own road safety bill.
"The governor has definitely evolved on this," Montigny said. "He did use some of my language, which I was very pleased because that language has been vetted for years. And although he may have some policy differences within this very complex issue, I anticipate that he will be signing the bill."