At last count, 30 states have enacted laws that prohibit drivers from texting. Eight others would ban younger drivers from doing so.
So, it should be no surprise that Nevada legislators arriving Monday in Carson City will have no fewer than six bills dealing with texting and cell phones to debate during the 76th legislative session.
While calls for tax increases and for program cuts will dominate the legislative session, dozens of other important bills could affect the lives of Nevada residents. In all, 944 bills are being drafted.
There are bills to establish a state lottery and to allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets that have been introduced at many previous sessions.
A measure by Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, is back, for a third time, to stop the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas and others from protesting near funerals of servicemen and women.
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, is drafting legislation designed to prevent children from being left unattended in cars or from wandering into swimming pools.
Two bills prohibiting the sale of synthetic marijuana are being drawn up and Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, is back with a bill to forbid job discrimination against fat and short people.
CELL PHONES AND TEXTING
Moves to halt drivers from texting or even using cell phones are expected to be hot topics at the session.
Trying to text while driving on the public highways is equivalent to driving at four times the legal limit for drunken driving in Nevada, said John Johansen, manager of impaired driving programs for the state Office of Traffic Safety.
Studies have shown that even professional race drivers traveling at modest speeds cannot text without getting into accidents.
Distracted or impaired driving is a factor in 20 percent of auto accidents in Nevada.
Statistics on how many Nevada accidents are due to texting cannot be easily found, since the drivers tend to lie if they were texting and investigators often cannot easily find the definite cause of a fatality, Johansen said.
But his office found 63 people in Nevada died in accidents in the last five years when they were driving while distracted.
Distracted driving can mean trying to put a CD into a player, eating food, reading a book or anything that takes your mind away from driving, he said.
Driving while distracted already is against the law, but Johansen would favor a law specifically prohibiting texting by any driver and a ban on hand-held cell phone use, similar to a California law.
He admits that enforcing such bans would be difficult, since police might only see someone's head go down and the car suddenly veer off the road.
"So many of us fail to appreciate we are in a public arena, sharing limited space with other members of the public," Johansen said. "So many people treat their vehicle as an extension of their homes."
RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, wants a constitutional amendment specifying people can carry concealed weapons without permits or completing training programs.
"I am a strong believer in the Second Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution, Goedhart said. "You have a right to bear arms, whether openly or concealed."
Goedhart said he is not sure his proposal will receive a hearing because of the talk about increased gun control since the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Nevadans now must pass courses in the use of their weapons before getting concealed weapons permits.
Goedhart thinks such courses are good, but not required under the Second Amendment.
He said his plan "has nothing to do with politics," but is about the Constitution.
"We rely a lot on first responders (police officers), being there when we need them," he said. "But a lot of time they aren't around and we need to respond immediately."
Called Spice, K2 and other names, fake marijuana has the same psychoactive effect as real marijuana and it became a hot item for sale last year in head shops and convenience stores.
Then, on Christmas Day, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration put a year's ban on the sale of the five chemicals used to make it.
Both state Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, and Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, want to permanently ban the substances once the DEA restriction expires.
Settelmeyer said he was contacted by Douglas High School teachers in Minden who were worried about students going to class under the effects of synthetic marijuana.
Crafting a prohibition bill will be difficult, because manufacturers can change ingredients and come up with new versions that will be legal, he said.
"People who want to escape will always try to find something," Settelmeyer said .
MOTORCYCLE HELMET REPEAL
State Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, is returning for the sixth time with a bill to repeal the 1972 law requiring motorcyclists and passengers to wear helmets.
He maintains riders should have the "freedom of choice" to wear or not wear helmets.
His bill would lift the requirement for riders older than 21 with a year's experience, and their adult passengers.
The argument against repealing the law has been based on testimony from doctors that costs of treating motorcyclists with severe head injuries can run into millions of dollars and often the state is stuck paying.
But Gustavson's argument is that helmets don't end head injuries or medical costs.
He argues that lifting the requirement boosted the economy in Florida and would help Nevada's economy. Reno has Street Vibrations and Laughlin has the Laughlin River Run that would attract more participants if Nevada did not have a helmet law, he said.
Just 20 states now have helmet laws, although others require younger drivers to wear helmets.
Many states have repealed helmet laws passed in the 1960s.
Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, has drafted a bill to require all companies to use the federal E-Verify system to determine whether prospective employees are legal citizens.
If they don't, and hire undocumented workers, then he proposes stiff fines and suspension of their business licenses. The fine amounts have not yet been determined.
Hickey also wants the state to collect a fee on wire transfer of money to other countries. Often, he said, illegal residents who have been paid under the table in Nevada or other states wire money to relatives in Mexico or other counties.
The Mexican government takes 35 percent of every dollar wired by Western Union to its residents, he said.
Hickey isn't certain how legislators will react to his E-Verify bill, particularly since there are 20 newcomers in the Assembly, including a record eight Hispanics.
In past sessions, legislators have done little to stop illegal immigration.
They did pass a bill one session that would require the Tax Commission to go after employers who hire undocumented workers only after the U.S. Department of Justice had made final determinations that they deliberately hired illegal workers.
Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, has a bill to require cold and allergy medications that contain ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine to be available by prescription only.
The illegal synthetic drug is highly addictive and produces euphoric states similar to those produced by cocaine. The teeth of some meth users rot away.
Meth's ingredients include chemicals such as pseudoephedrine, which is found in cold medications like Sudafed.
The manufacturers of Sudafed now make varieties with and without pseudoephedrine.
At one time, Nevada led the nation in meth abuse: 15.7 percent of high school students reported using the drug in 2001. That figure fell to 3.5 percent in 2007. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said last fall that the number of meth labs busted by Nevada authorities fell from 300 in 2007 to 10 in 2009.
Two years ago, legislators passed a law requiring stores to place medications containing substances that could be used to make methamphetamine behind the pharmacist's counter. It also required customers to sign a registry to purchase them. These medications also no longer can be sold by convenience stores.
The Nevada Youth Legislature has prepared a bill to amend the Nevada Constitution to allow a state lottery with proceeds to support education.
Lotteries are banned by the constitution, enacted in 1864.
Moves by some legislators to legalize a state lottery have failed 26 times since 1971. Polls consistently show a state lottery would be popular among residents, however.
Gov. Brian Sandoval said recently he opposes a state lottery because it would compete with the gaming industry. That has been the primary argument raised against a state lottery.
In 2007, Boyd Gaming and Station Casinos released a study that found a lottery would create 316 jobs in Nevada, while eliminating 595 jobs in the gaming and hospitality industry. A state lottery, according to the study, would bring in $48 million a year in profits for the state.
CHILDREN'S CAR SEATS
Munford has proposed legislation to require parents to install child-seat alarm systems to prevent children from being accidentally locked in hot cars. He said inexpensive devices could help prevent deaths of infants and young children locked in cars during sweltering summers.
The Associated Press reported in 2007 that 310 children died while locked in hot motor vehicles nationwide in the previous 10 years. Eight of those deaths were in Las Vegas.
Devices are available for as little as $10 to help prevent such deaths. Most of the devices connect to the child's seat. On one, a buzzer goes off when a door is opened. On another, the buzzer sounds when any seat belt is unlocked.
Munford hopes the hearing on children's car seats could be expanded to look at ways parents can protect small children from falling into swimming pools.
For a third consecutive session, Stewart is back with a bill to outlaw protests within 300 feet of a funeral.
He began his move to prevent demonstrations after the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, began showing up at funerals of servicemen and shouted taunts such as "God hates fags." On at least two occasions, the group protested at funerals for Nevada servicemen.
"It is one thing to have free speech, but families of soldiers who have given their lives for the country deserve peace and a quiet chance to say goodbye," Stewart said. "Free speech goes too far when it infringes on these families."
Stewart's bill could become moot. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon in a case where the father of a dead Marine won a $5 million judgment against the Westboro church for violating the sanctity of his son's funeral.
"It would be great if my bill became irrelevant," Stewart said.
JOB DISCRIMINATION AGAINST FAT, SHORT PEOPLE
Segerblom is back with a bill to prohibit job discrimination based on the weight and height of people. A similar bill never received a hearing in 2009.
"There are a lot of overweight people; they are just routinely denied jobs," he said. "Those people have a right to work like anybody."
A Yale University study in 2008 found overweight people earn up to 6 percent less than others doing the same job, they are viewed as lazy and less competent than people who are not overweight, and they can be fired or suspended from work for their weight despite good job performance.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Ben Spillman contributed to this story. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.