Vehicle alarms among 500 bills

CARSON CITY — A lawmaker wants to require parents to install child-seat alarm systems to help prevent children from being accidentally locked in hot cars.

Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, said this week the inexpensive devices could help prevent deaths of infants and young children in cars during sweltering summers in Southern Nevada. He wants legislators to pass his child-safety bill during the 2011 session, which starts in February.

His is among more than 500 bills legislators, state agencies and counties have requested for discussion in the session. They include another attempt to outlaw the use of cell phones and texting by motor vehicle operators and a proposal to free employers from paying payroll taxes on additional employees they hire.

Even lame-duck Gov. Jim Gibbons has asked that his proposals to improve education be drawn up in case the next governor or a legislator wants to push them.

Munford’s bill should attract a lot of attention because everyone has heard horror stories about children being locked in cars in Las Vegas in the extreme summer heat.

"We hear about children dying from being locked in cars all the time," Munford said. "It happens here because of the high temperatures and long summers we have."

The Associated Press reported in 2007 that 310 children had died while locked in hot motor vehicles nationwide in the previous 10 years. Eight of the 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.

Janette Fennell, founder and president of the website KidsandCars.org, supports Munford’s efforts. A former Las Vegas resident who now lives in Kansas, she said 41 children have died in the United States this year from hyperthermia after being locked in cars. None has died in Nevada.

"In 15 minutes a baby left in a car in Las Vegas can die," said Fennell, who noted children have died even in cases where the outside temperature was as low as 57 degrees. Michigan has had 61 children died locked in cars since 1990, compared with 29 in Nevada.

Fennell’s organization does not endorse products designed to inform parents when they leave a child in a car seat. But her website contains information about several products available from manufacturers for as little as $29. One device plays nursery rhymes that stop when you leave the car. Another provides a baby-in-the-car beeping reminder on your key chain when you walk away from the vehicle.

"It is all very doable," she said. "It takes a little technology to prevent it from happening."

Munford also has asked legislative researchers to investigate if similar life-saving devices are available to prevent drownings of children who fall into swimming pools.

There also is technology to reduce the chances of children falling in swimming pools, Fennell said. One device makes a noise when a door in the home is opened. Others work around the pool. But she said people really should construct fences around pools to prevent drowning.

Fennell became a car safety advocate after she and her husband were kidnapped in the garage of their San Francisco home in 1995. Their assailants locked them in their car trunk — with their baby left in a car seat in the vehicle. When they escaped, their baby was gone. Fortunately, the child was left unharmed in front of their home.

Through Fennell’s efforts, Congress passed a law in 2002 that requires car manufacturers to include glow-in-the-dark trunk releases. She also worked with Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, in 2005 on the state law that makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly leave a child 7 years old or younger alone in a car. The crime is a misdemeanor .

Fennell won approval of a federal law, which goes into effect next year requiring vehicles to be equipped with mirrors, cameras or other devices that detect when something is in the blind spot behind the vehicle. Two children are killed on the average every day when run over by cars backing up, Fennell said.

Among the other draft bill requests:

■ Gibbons will be gone from Carson City in January, but he is leaving behind his school reform plans. The governor proposed in February that legislators end collective bargaining for school employees, provide education vouchers, establish more empowerment schools and end requirements for full-day kindergarten. His ideas weren’t even discussed during the special legislative session.

■ Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, wants to do everything possible to induce employers to hire more workers and reduce the unemployment rate.

He has a bill to free employers from paying the modified business tax, now 1.17 percent of each employee’s ages, on the additional employees they hire. The tax still will be collected on existing employees.

"It all comes down to jobs," Settelmeyer said. "My opinion is currently we don’t have employers looking to expand businesses. We need more jobs."

■ Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, has proposed legislation to ban juvenile drivers from using cell phones, texting and playing electronic devices when they are behind the wheel. The Department of Public Safety also has a bill to prohibit texting. Earlier Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, proposed a similar ban.

Manendo tried unsuccessfully in two previous sessions to prohibit cell phone use by drivers. This time, he is confident that at least underage drivers will be blocked from using cell phones and texting.

"I have been told some kids even are playing GameBoys and Facebooking while driving," Manendo said. "Some also are addicted to texting. They have to respond immediately when their friends text them."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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