There’s an old tradition at the Utah Legislature called, for a lack of better nomenclature, “We pass, you kill.”
One house passes a bill sponsored by a well-liked colleague with the hope (if not outright lobbying) that the other body will kill it.
Whether that will be the case with SB128 by Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, remains to be seen: the House will take up the measure next.
But the elements are there: a well-liked legislator who isn’t returning to Capitol Hill running a bill he really cares about.
The issue of outlawing teenage minor drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel has been around since 2002.
Romero took up the cause several years ago. He got a similar bill passed in the Senate in the 2011, but it failed by a few votes in the House (32-38).
Basically, this year’s bill says that no one under 18 (the age of adulthood in Utah) may drive a vehicle while talking on a cell phone. There are the normal exemptions -- a teen driver can talk in the case of an emergency, talk to his parents and so on.
The bill passed the Senate Tuesday (19-9).
SB128 has a minimal penalty – a $50 infraction fine.
But several of the Senate “no” votes came from conservative who said – in part – that government’s long hand was reaching too far when it tried to tell kids how to responsibly.
Part of the concern among the conservatives was that lawmen couldn’t tell by just looking at a young driver on a cell phone whether he or she was under 18.
And so a lot of young-look adults could be pulled over for no reason at all – they might be talking on a cell phone but it was legal for them to do so.
Issues of profiling – by age or even race – comes to mind.
Romero tells UtahPolicy that he thinks he has a better coalition, and a more vocal coalition, behind him this year.
“There were some (House members) absent at last year’s vote,” says Romero, who is running for Salt Lake County mayor this year and won’t be back in the Senate in 2013.
A minority leader who won’t be coming back and wants a legacy – those are the kind of things that still matter in the close-knit Senate.
There are only 29 senators, one of the smallest upper bodies of any state legislature.
And it sometimes hurts senators to kill bills of colleagues they really like and respect.
Years ago there was a female senator who, when standing and debating her bills, would often break into tears – especially if it appeared that her male colleagues, by their questions, were going to kill her legislation.
It was common knowledge that senators passed her bills along to the House, then – usually through communications with GOP House leaders – asked that representatives vote her bill down.
Such direct “We pass, you kill” understandings may be less seen today.
But it is usually the case that bills that get substantial support in one body (especially the Senate) get a much more reserved greeting in the other body (especially the House).
Romero believes his teenage cell phone driving bill has a better chance in the House this year than last.
“There are some new House members,” said Romero. “We have more vocal supporters” – pediatricians, firefighters, the PTA, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
“The community is really behind this bill this year. A lot more people are paying attention” this time around, Romero said.
“I think we can push it through.”
However, now we’ll see if the “We pass, you kill” emotions apply to SB128 or not.