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Is that text worth $500? Maryland House approves bill to boost maximum texting-while-driving fine

The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday approved a bill that increases the maximum penalty for using a cell phone while driving to $500, though it was unclear how frequently such large a fine would actually be issued.

The legislation repeals a tiered fine system under which maximum fines are $75, $125 and $175 for first, second and third offenses, respectively.

“I think people need to get serious about stopping people from using cellphones,” said Del. Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat and the bill’s sponsor.

The bill passed by a relatively narrow margin, 78-58. It takes 71 votes for a bill to pass the House.

In brief floor debate, Del. Kathy Szeliga called attention to the financial burden the bill could place on Marylanders.

“It’s increasing the fine?” Szeliga asked Del. Pamela Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

“It could. It will be up to the courts,” Beidle said.

“I just wanted the body to know this is increasing a fine,” said Szeliga, a Republican who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.

Nonpartisan legislative analysts said they could not estimate what impact the legislation could have on residents’ pocketbooks or on state revenues, because District Court judges have “wide discretion” in setting fines.

The analysts said the fines levied on those who choose to pay up front and waive their right to appear before a judge may not change significantly from the current three-tiered fine schedule.

The bill now goes to the Maryland Senate, where no such legislation has been introduced this year.

sdance@baltsun.com

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