The House Judiciary voted Wednesday night to approve a bill that would allow a judge to give up to a one-year jail term to a driver who kills someone while distracted by use of a hand-held cell phone.
By a bipartisan 18-3 vote, the panel sent the measure known as Jake's Law to the full House.
The legislation is named after 5-year-old Jake Owen, who was killed near the Beltway and Interstate 83 three days after Christmas 2011 when the driver of an SUV plowed into the rear of the vehicle in which his family was traveling to a mall to return presents. Police determined that the driver had been using a cell phone at the time he crashed into Jake's family at 62 mph.
Before approving the bill, lawmakers amended it to lessen the three-year sentence called for in the original bill sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat. Another change would allow prosecutors to charge a defendant under both Jake's Law and the stiffer charge of criminally negligent manslaughter, Clippinger said.
If prosecutors can secure a conviction for manslaughter, the 10-year maximum for that crime would apply, Clippinger said. The bill also requires drivers to provide officers with their cell phone numbers, the identity of their service carrier and any email address linked to the device if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person had been talking or texting at the time of the crash.
Sitting outside the hearing room as delegates voted was Jake's mother, Susan Yum of Baltimore. She said the panel's decision was "a good start."
"While we didn't get everything we wanted, we know this is how the process works," she said.
Yum said the family began seeking legislation last year, after the SUV's driver was acquitted of manslaughter and reckless driving. She said the driver was convicted on other traffic charges and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
"When the verdict came down, we knew there was a gap in the law,' Yum said.
A similar bill is pending in a Senate committee.