Hefty fines may be down the road for texting

By L. Parsons

The 53rd Legislature of Arizona is in their second regular session with a number of important bills being considered to implement into law.

Senate Bill 1261 would create a fine for texting while driving. The fine would start at $99 for a first offense and $200 for a second. In the event that texting while driving causes a fatality or serious injury, the punishment would be a misdemeanor charge, $4,000 in fines and up to four months in county jail. In order for punishment to be inflicted, the act of texting while driving must be witnessed first hand by an officer of the law. The offender would be under no obligation to surrender their phone to the officer to prove the act took place. Other language in the bill includes that a conviction for texting while driving will not reflect on the offenders driving record, nor will it be a basis for insurance companies to raise premiums. The bill passed the House Committee on Transportation and Technology unanimously and will move on to a full Senate vote.

Senate Bill 1377 would allow dental therapists to practice in Arizona. Dental therapists are assistants who are capable of basic procedures such as tooth extraction, filling, and examination. Therapists work under the supervision of licensed dentists and provide care at a lower cost. Supporters of the bill see the passage of it as a way to reach more Arizonans with quality dental care. The bill does have bipartisan support and the endorsement of tribal leaders who see a shortage of dental care in rural Arizona. However, it has been contested by the Arizona Dental Association who maintains that dental care should be performed by highly educated and licensed physicians. The bill passed the Health and Human Services Committee with a 4-3 vote and is now being sent to the Senate Education Committee, no hearing date has been set.

House Bill 2166 would raise vehicle registration fees statewide by $17 to $19 per year. The reason for the increase according to lawmakers is to fund the Arizona Highway Patrol. Passage of the bill would free up the 18 cent per gallon gasoline tax that has been funneled to that department but was supposed to fund infrastructure improvements on roads and highways across Arizona. Also included in the bill is the phasing out of lower cost registration for alternatively fueled vehicles because they use the roads in the same way that gasoline or diesel vehicles do. This has been met with some opposition including from lobbyists from natural gas companies and others. Despite objection, the bill passed in the House Committee on Transportation and Technology, 7-1, and will move on to a full House of Representatives vote.

Senate Bill 1167 would increase a tax exemption for military retirement pay to $6,250 in 2018 and $10,000 by 2019. This is up from the current $2,500 exemption. The bill still needs the approval of the House, having passed in the Senate Chamber 18-11. It will, if passed, benefit 52,000 Arizona veterans.