Legislation banning the use of cellphones while driving passed the House before the Crossover Day deadline and moved on to the Senate.
Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, who lost a teen daughter to a distracted driver, spoke in favor of House Bill 673 before the vote, which came in at 151 to 20.
Lumsden said there's been a 34-percent increase in accidents, injuries and fatalities over the past three years due to the use of smartphones and tablets by drivers. The insurance agent and retired Georgia State Patrol trooper said it has led to a measurable spike in insurance premiums and additional costs when the victims need government aid.
But he highlighted the human cost, pointing to supporters in the gallery whose families have been affected by death or disability.
"They want to know that their loss helps to bring about a change that will keep others from having to deal with the life-altering challenges that they are facing," he said.
Lumsden noted that drunk driving was a major issue 30 years ago, but legal crackdowns and public awareness campaigns helped change people's attitudes about alcohol and cars.
"In order to really deal with the problem it must become socially unacceptable to drive distracted," he added.
The "Hands-Free Georgia Act" prohibits a driver from holding or touching an electronic device and sets a minimum fine of $300 for the first offense and a 2-point assessment on their license. It doesn't apply to voice-to-text or GPS navigation.
Under the wire
Lumsden also carried a bill allowing Cave Spring to boost its hotel-motel tax to 8 percent from 5 percent, which passed under the wire with no opposition.
Floyd County's other House delegates — Reps. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, and Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville — were cosponsors, and also got several of their own bills through the chamber in time.
Coomer, the majority whip, quickly wrote and pushed through HB 999, which makes it harder for a mentally ill person to get a gun permit.
The legislation removes the mandatory five-year purge from the background check database any records of an individual's involuntary hospitalization in a mental or addiction treatment facility. A judge could still allow a permit after examining the professional assessments.
Dempsey shepherded three bills through the Crossover Day crush late Wednesday night.
Her HB 494 allows hearsay evidence during a preliminary emergency hearing to determine if a serious incident or fatality at a childhood early care or learning program requires closure or monitoring. It also replaces a fingerprint background check for employees with a comprehensive records check that includes fingerprinting.
HB 920 expands how the Department of Human Services can use its records on adopted children and their parents when the child dies, suffers a near fatality, or is an alleged victim of abuse.
Dempsey also sponsored HB 996, which establishes a central database and governing board to merge records of people receiving government social services from various agencies.
The integrated database initiative is similar to a bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, aimed at getting a handle on healthcare costs and effective treatments. The measures will likely be reconciled before the General Assembly adjourns at the end of the month.