- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

RICHMOND — Hang up and drive.

That’s the message sent to novice drivers by the House of Delegates, which voted 86-10 yesterday to pass legislation banning motorists under age 18 from using cell phones or other wireless telecommunications devices while driving.

Amendments added by a House committee must be approved by the Senate before the bill is sent to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s desk. Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said the governor, who prohibits his 17-year-old son Nat from using a cell phone while driving, thinks the bill “may be an appropriate safety restriction for new drivers.”

Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican and the father of four teenagers, said cell phones are a dangerous distraction for young motorists — especially those virtually addicted to text-messaging their friends. His bill was strongly backed by traffic-safety advocates.

Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, Scott County Republican, spoke against the measure. He said the bill would prevent him and his wife from calling their teenage daughter to find out where she is and when she will be home.

Mr. Kilgore also said drivers must deal with other potential distractions, including playing the radio or reaching for a compact disc. But supporters of the bill said cell phones are a more pervasive distraction for teens.

“We’re simply asking our young people, 16 and 17 years old, to give full attention to their driving,” said Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, Fairfax County Republican.

To illustrate the potential danger, he sent a text message from the House floor. He said that in the seven seconds it took him to punch in the message, a car traveling 60 miles an hour could cover the length of two football fields.

“That’s 200 yards that a 16- or 17-year-old would not be watching the road,” he said.

House passage of the bill was a breakthrough for Mr. O’Brien, who had successfully steered the legislation through the Senate the previous two years only to see it fail in the House.

The bill allows 16- and 17-year-old drivers to use their cell phone in an emergency, but they have to pull off the highway and park. It also allows for only secondary enforcement, which means police could issue a ticket only if the driver is stopped for another violation. The fine would be $50.

Supporters of the legislation cite statistics from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Commonwealth University Transportation Safety Center showing 300 crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers on cell phones in 2004 and 2005.

Thirteen states and the District already bar cell-phone use by teen drivers, Mr. O’Brien said.

• ‘Abraham’s Law’

Lawmakers must decide if 14 or 16 is the appropriate age for a teen with a life-threatening condition to help make medical decisions.

A Senate version of a bill to give parents and children more say in how the child is medically treated passed the House 89-9 yesterday after it was changed to require the child be at least 14. A House version set the minimum age at 16.

The House version already has been sent into negotiations between conferees appointed from both the House and Senate. If the Senate rejects the 14 age limit placed on its version in the House, conferees would decide which age limit is best.

Both versions, dubbed “Abraham’s Law,” were inspired by a sick teen on Virginia’s Eastern Shore who won a court battle to treat his cancer with alternative medicine.

Starchild Abraham Cherrix, 16, fought last summer to forgo chemotherapy to treat his Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system that is considered treatable in its early stages.

The bills would allow parents to refuse a certain medical treatment for a child and not face charges of neglect on four conditions: that the parents and child make the decision jointly; the child is sufficiently mature to have an opinion on his or her treatment; the family has considered other treatment options; and the parents believe in good faith that the decision is in the child’s best interest.

• Utility reregulation

Legislation backed by Dominion Resources to establish a so-called “hybrid” form of utility regulation won easy approval in the Virginia House of Delegates yesterday.

The measure was introduced because electric-power deregulation flopped when the expected competition failed to develop.

Critics said the bill gives the State Corporation Commission no real authority and allows Virginia’s dominant power company to reap huge profits.

Supporters argue that it provides substantial consumer protections while positioning Dominion to attract the capital it needs to build power plants that will be needed to meet future demand for electricity.

The House approved the bill 82-to-16. Identical legislation is pending in the Senate.

• Provisional ballots

A Republican-led effort in the Senate to require voters who have to cast provisional ballots in elections to bring identification with them to the polls failed yesterday.

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, tried to add the provision onto a House bill on the Senate floor, but Democrats along with a few Republicans blocked the move after sharp debate.

Mr. Obenshain’s proposal would require voters whose names are not on poll books to bring with them some form of identification — whether state-issued documents such as drivers licenses or copies of utility bills or bank statements that verify residency — and submit it to obtain a ballot.

The original bill, sponsored by Delegate Rosalyn R. Dance, Petersburg Democrat, was intended to expedite processing of voter-registration applications.

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