For more than a decade, some Arizona lawmakers have tried to ban texting while driving. They have failed every time.
The Senate Committee on Transportation and Technology unanimously approved the proposal, which now moves to the Rules Committee before going to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 1261 would impose a fine of between $25 and $99 for a first offense and between $100 and $200 for a subsequent offense.
If texting while driving causes serious injury or death of another person, the defendant would be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor and receive a fine of up to $4,000.
If passed into law, Arizona would join the 47 other states with similar legislation. As of Tuesday, only Arizona, Missouri and Montana have yet to pass a statewide ban.
The vote came after more than 1 1/2 hours of often tearful pleas from members of the public, many of whom have lost family members because of distracted driving. For some families, speaking to legislators is an annual affair.
Last year, Susan Huff wept as she asked lawmakers to extend the proposed texting ban for teen drivers to all drivers. Her father, Tom Hall, was killed in Yavapai County when his motorcycle was hit by an adult driver who was reportedly reaching for her phone. She returned this year, showing the same photo of her father.
"I can tell you right now, this is a whole different atmosphere," Huff said through tears. "When I was here then, I had no hope that this was going to pass."
Cynthia Schneider brought a photo of her 16-year-old daughter, Chloe Schneider, who was killed in November 2016. Chloe was riding her mountain bike when she was struck from behind by a woman who was speeding and on her phone, her mother told legislators. Schneider on Tuesday said her daughter's killer received a speeding ticket and a $1,000 fine.
"My daughter never came home," she said. "To me, that is … I don’t even know how that is legal."
Just before casting his vote, committee Chairman Rep. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, apologized to the public for taking so long to move the bill forward. "Sometimes it just seems like our political ideology gets in the way of common sense," he said.
The bill mirrors one that passed last year in Texas, one of the final holdout states. Its passage followed a horrific crash in rural Texas, where 13 people were killed after a pickup truck driver collided with a church minibus. Just after the crash, the truck driver reportedly acknowledged he had been texting.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, has pushed for similar legislation since 2007, but he consistently met with resistance from the likes of former Senate President Andy Biggs, who argued that the state's existing distracted-driving laws sufficed.
But there are actually no distracted-driving laws on the books.
Farley hopes the 12th time is a charm.