A bill requiring “hands-free” communications while driving is on track to become law in Minnesota.
The proposal passed the Minnesota Senate Monday in a 56-10 vote after clearing the Minnesota House last week. It would prohibit Minnesota drivers from using cell phones on the road unless they use “voice-activated” communications or a device in “hands-free mode,” thus earning it the nickname of a “hands-free bill.”
What exactly constitutes “hands-free,” however, was the subject of one amendment introduced by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis). Champion’s amendment moved to expand the definition of “hands-free” to include the “use of a scarf or hijab or other items of clothing to hold a device in a hands-free manner.”
The amendment ultimately passed in a 37-29 vote, but will still need to win over supporters in the House.
“Any person who is using a scarf and they are operating hands free—because that’s what it says, ‘hands-free mode’—by using a scarf in order to hold a phone would not be a violation because both hands would be on the steering wheel,” he said, noting that it would help prevent racial profiling, according to MPR News.
Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), the bill’s lead sponsor, voted against the amendment.
“All I’m asking for in this bill is put your phone down, put your eyes back on the road where they belong,” he said. “I know we’re going to save lives.”
Some Republicans, such as Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville), had some concerns that the bill infringes on personal liberties.
“I don’t like the way this is taking away my freedom. But it needs to be done for the sake of so many who are dying because others are being selfish,” he added.
Newman addressed Hall’s concerns in a recent statement, saying the bill is a “matter of public safety.”
“Cell phone abuse on the roadways is a growing problem. This isn’t about restricting liberties; it’s a matter of public safety. The purpose of this bill is to encourage drivers to use their phones in a hands-free manner—or put it down,” he said. “Drivers have a responsibility to themselves, their passengers, and the others on the road.”
House and Senate supporters of the bill will now need to convene to agree on a version to send to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz, who said he will sign the bill into law.
The full text of the bill, House File 50, can be viewed here.
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