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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Michael Howard (DFL)

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Legislative Update - July 24, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Dear Neighbors,
August 1st is just a few days away, which means another batch of new laws passed during this year’s legislative session will take effect. A list of all the new laws can be found here, which include an expansion of people allowed to administer EpiPens, increased transparency in clinical fees, the rejection of racially restricting covenants in property titles, and more.
An upcoming law that I’d like to take a moment to highlight for you is one you’ve probably heard about on the news, and that’s the new “Hands-Free” law. Starting August 1st, drivers in Minnesota can only use a mobile device in a hands-free mode while behind the wheel. This year at the Minnesota Legislature, we heard of countless avoidable tragedies where distracted driving was to blame. With similar laws in other states leading to a decrease in accidents, the bipartisan legislation we passed will work to make our roads safer.
The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety offers an extensive amount of information on the new law, which you can find here, but these are some of the most common questions:
What can I do under the new law?
The new law allows a driver to use their cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone.
What can’t I do with my phone under the new law?
You may not hold your phone in your hand. Also, a driver may not use their phone at any time for video calling, video live-streaming, Snapchat, gaming, looking at video or photos stored on the phone, using non-navigation apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone.
Can I ever hold my phone?
Yes. Hand-held phone use is allowed to obtain emergency assistance, if there is an immediate threat to life and safety, or when in an authorized emergency vehicle while performing official duties.
Can I use a GPS navigation device?
Yes. GPS and other systems that can only be used for navigation are exempt from the Hands-Free law. In-car screens and systems are also exempt. In both cases, most of these systems lock when the vehicle is moving.
Does the new hands-free law address smart watches? 
Drivers can use them as a conventional watch to check time, but smart watches are considered an electronic communications device under the hands-free law. That means the device has the same restrictions as a cell phone. Drivers can use a smart watch the same way they use a cell phone as long as it’s by one-touch or voice activation. Drivers can’t type, text or do the other things prohibited under the hands-free law.
Are there penalties?
Yes. The first ticket is $50 plus court fees and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.
If you have any questions on the new laws passed this session or the legislative process, please feel free to contact me.
Michael Howard