Ohio distracted driving bill passes committee with changes

Eliminating texting while driving took a step forward Tuesday afternoon when Ohio’s distracted driving bill passed the House Criminal Justice Committee and heads to the floor for a likely vote Wednesday.

House Bill 283 had a fifth hearing Tuesday, and passed with two changes. Drivers will be able to hold a phone as long as it is placed next to their ear and not being looked at, and drivers can use phones at stop lights.

As previously reported by The Center Square, the bill originally would have all but eliminated drivers legally using mobile phones in cars by any method other than hands free.

“In a recent poll conducted by the coalition, the No. 1 concern for Ohio drivers is distracted driving,” Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, said in testimony. “This is consistent regardless of age, political ideology or region of the state. Additionally, 71% of Ohio drivers disagree with the notion that distracted driving does not merit a new law.”

The committee passage came on the first day lawmakers returned for a lame duck session that ends the two-year session next month.

It also came an hour after Democratic leaders outlined their plan for the session, saying they are confident Republicans and Democrats can work together on a series of bipartisan bills they say put families first.

“We look forward to working with Republicans on a series of bipartisan sponsored legislation that I know we can pass together to put working families first,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said at a Wednesday news conference. “We are here to work for all Ohioans, to ensure Ohio is the greatest state to start a family and start a business. We are not here to start any fights over cultural issues. But we will not sit idly by this session and watch bills pushed through that in any way jeopardize someone’s fundamental freedoms to live and work with dignity.”

Democrats want to push billions of remaining federal COVID-19 relief dollars into mental health services and the state’s caregiver infrastructure.

They also took issue at House Bill 294, a Republican-pushed voting bill that would eliminate advanced voting in the state and make other changes.

“The Ohio Anti-Voter Bill threatens your ability to make your voice heard by limiting ballot drop boxes, cutting the number of early voting days, and implementing convoluted voter ID requirements,” said Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park. “We’ve stopped this extreme legislation before, and Ohioans and Democrats are ready to stop it once again.”

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