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Politician deserves credit for devising bills to help the many

Never met Shirley Breeden, but from what I’ve heard, I might have mocked her lack of understanding of issues prior to her 2008 election, when she unseated then-Sen. Joe Heck, a Republican who seemed eminently more qualified although far more conservative.

But today, she’s on my list of people deserving my admiration and respect.

First, she has done something that will save lives, a legacy few can claim. Her push for banning using cellphones while driving probably already has saved lives, though people are still doing it.

Since Oct. 1, drivers have received only warnings, not tickets.

Beware. After Jan. 1, it will cost you money for texting or using a cellphone, unless it’s a hands-free version. Starting Jan. 1, the first offense will cost drivers $50, the second $100 and the third $250.

I’ve pretty much given it up (OK, I still glance at emails at lights), but I see those who haven’t. Sometimes they’re stopped in front of me at a stoplight, so involved in their conversation they don’t see the light change. During more frightening times, they’re whizzing around on the freeway, weaving and oblivious to the danger they’re creating. And they come in all ages, colors and socioeconomic groups.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all states ban texting, tweeting and calling on electronic devices while driving. The board cited its figures that more than 3,000 people died in 2010 because of “distracted driving.”

The board went further than Breeden’s bill, Senate Bill 140. Her bill allows hands-free devices. The transportation board recommended a complete ban, even of hands-free systems, which hasn’t a prayer of winning approval, nor should it.

The Nevada law, passed this year, is clear. Motorists cannot text or talk on hand-held wireless devices. The driver is forbidden from tweeting, texting or talking on the phone. Even reading emails, even at stoplights, is a no-no.

Breeden’s original bill had larger fines, starting at $250 and ending at $1,000, plus a provision designed to rein in those with more money than sense.

If that third fine came within seven years, initially they could lose their driver’s license for six months. The fines had to be lowered and the drivers’ license suspension dropped before other Democratic senators would agree to the bill.

Breeden isn’t the first to seek a cellphone ban in Nevada.

At the same time former County Commissioner Erin Kenny was soliciting bribes, she was advocating a ban on cellphones while driving.

The Clark County Commission rejected her idea in 2001, saying it would be hard to enforce a ban in Clark County alone. Kenny was mocked for her nanny-state mentality, but now it seems, she was ahead of her time as it becomes more and more obvious the dangers outweigh the convenience.

There’s another reason for my newfound admiration for Breeden. Typically, she spends four to five hours a day caring for her mom.

The retired Clark County school administrator just said she won’t run for re-election because she wants to help rehabilitate her mother, who was seriously injured this year in a car accident that killed Breeden’s father. No cellphones were involved.

Breeden hopes to return to politics. She candidly admitted she didn’t know issues when she was first elected. “But I believe I made a difference. I have common sense, which, to be honest, I don’t believe some of those folks up there have. I think some people forget we are supposed to do what is best for our constituents, not what’s best for lobbyists.”

Her goal was to pass bills that helped not the few, but the many — the third reason she has earned my respect.

Her cellphone law will irritate many but will save many as well. That’s a legacy to make a mom proud.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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