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Bill bans hand-held cellphones if driving

CARSON CITY — Cellphone users, drop your phones before you start your engines.

The Assembly on Monday voted 24-17 for a bill already approved by the Senate that would outlaw the use of hand-held cellphones and texting by all drivers starting Jan. 1.

Under the bill, violators would be assessed $50 fines for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses. Police would start issuing warnings to violators on Oct. 1, but fines would not be imposed until next year.

The vote came on a marathon voting day, with the Senate and Assembly approving about 100 bills to beat a self-imposed deadline. Most bills that did not pass both houses by Monday will be considered dead for the remainder of the session, scheduled to end by 1 a.m. June 7. Now legislators must agree to amendments to bills and pass or kill those that are exempt from the deadline.

Another top bill to win approval was Assembly Bill 294, which allows Nevada resort hotels with mobile gaming devices to let patrons use them to gamble from their hotel rooms. State gaming regulators would determine how and when the devices could be used.

The bill won Senate approval unanimously. During hearings, witnesses said the state could generate $18 million more annually in state gaming taxes.

“Technology has moved forward substantially,” said Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas. “There are safeguards built in. I was one who years back had great, great hesitation.”

Before the final vote on the cellphone bill, the Assembly tacked on a minor amendment that must be approved in the Senate before the measures goes to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his signature or veto.

Sandoval’s policy has been not to reveal what he will do until a bill reaches his desk.

Only two of the 26 Republicans in the Legislature voted for the bill.

If the governor signs the bill, Nevada would become the 31st state to outlaw texting by all drivers. Eight others prohibit only teenagers from texting. And Nevada would become the ninth state to prohibit the use of cellphones by all drivers unless they use hands-free devices.

Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, said it is clearly hazardous to drive while talking on a cellphone or texting.

“We know it is a problem in this state,” he said. “We have been talking about the dangers of texting for years. But it is difficult just to stop texting because you don’t know what they (drivers) are doing on the cellphone. It would become a burden” for police to determine what drivers were doing. “So we expanded it.”

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said that everyone realizes that texting should be outlawed but that SB140 goes too far.

“There are a lot of distractions besides cellphones,” he added. “Eating a sandwich. Drinking a cup of coffee. This is a California-style law.”

Goicoechea added it is still unclear whether the bill allows someone to text or call from a car stopped along the road, or at a traffic light.

In other key votes Monday:

■ The Senate on a party-line 11-10 vote passed AB136, which makes it easier for some felons to secure good-time credits for passing educational courses and win earlier releases.

The bill originally failed, but Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, later asked that his no vote be changed, and on a second vote, the bill was approved.

Republicans, led by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, had opposed the bill.

“It guts the truth in sentencing (laws) in this state and frees felons early,” he said.

■ The Senate voted 13-8 for AB301, which makes it easier for felons who have finished their sentences to regain voting rights.

“These people have paid their debt to society, as heinous as their crimes may have been,” said Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City.

■ The Assembly voted 41-0 for SB282, which would make it a misdemeanor crime, subject to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to willfully and deliberately display in any public place or publications the Social Security number of another. The person whose number was released also may sue for damages and legal costs.

■ The Assembly voted 26-15 for AB332, which would require the Economic Forum to hold one additional meeting a year to gauge whether state taxes are growing or declining.

The forum is the group of five business leaders who determine how much revenue the state government has to spend. The bill, which is exempt from the deadline, now must be heard by the Senate.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@ reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3801. Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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