AUGUSTA (AP) – A perennial bill to make cell-phone use illegal while driving and a related measure to crack down on motorists who break laws while distracted were rejected Friday, but they remain alive.

The first bill, a flat ban on the use of handheld cellular telephones while driving, would have allowed exceptions for doctors and some emergency and public employees.

With a strong committee recommendation that the bill be shelved, representatives turned it down by a 116-19 tally before sending it to the Senate.

The second bill is aimed at a broader category of distractions, such as eating, combing hair or using a cell phone. Maine law already bans reading while driving.

Violators could be ticketed if they are stopped for another infraction and an officer observes their inattentive behavior, supporters said.

“What we’re finding increasingly is people blowing through intersections, people blowing through stop signs, absolutely clueless,” said Rep. Thomas Murphy Jr.

The Kennebunk Republican said he has even seen one motorist zooming along while balancing a pizza box on the steering wheel.

“The only thing I haven’t seen is the laptop attached to the steering wheel,” Murphy added, “but I’m sure that’s coming.”

Opponents contended that the bill is too broad and that police already can charge inattentive motorists under the driving-to-endanger statute.

“Once again, we’re trying to dictate to people how to live their lives,” said Rep. Roderick Carr, R-Lincoln.

Rep. Matthew Dunlap, D-Old Town, mused that an unintended consequence of the bill is that it may provide auto insurers with another reason to deny accident claims.

Only 43 members voted for the bill to 94 against. It also faces a Senate vote.

Bill seeks to give users defense against ‘spam’

Eds: LD 255

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Without a word of debate, the Maine House gave initial approval Friday to a bill that would put Maine among the states that have given computer users a shield against unsolicited e-mail messages.

The anti-spam bill requires senders to include return e-mail addresses so recipients can respond and say they no don’t want any more commercial messages, said the sponsor, Rep. Albion Goodwin.

Goodwin said the bill also requires commercial e-mails to include coding to show it is an advertisement, and additional coding to show if it is adult material.

Goodwin, D-Pembroke, sponsored similar legislation last session but it was rejected after House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise. Goodwin said kinks in the bill have since been worked out.

About 30 states have passed similar bills, Goodwin said.

The bill faces further House and Senate votes.

Deal reached on elephant abuse bill

Eds: LD 327

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – The latest bill to ban circus elephants in Maine drew scores of participants and drew sometimes-emotional testimony for hours earlier this year.

On Friday, the Senate voted routinely for a compromise that could end a debate that’s been drawing the attention of lawmakers and many of their constituents since 2001.

Some lawmakers wanted to ban elephants in circuses and other traveling exhibitions in Maine because they said the pachyderms are abused in those environments.

Ringling Bros. called the bill “solution in search of a nonexistent problem” and said during a hearing in February that if the bill became law, it would no longer bring its circus to Maine.

Instead of voting the ban the animals, a committee amended it to set standards of care. The bill was further amended in the Senate to drop the proposed standards but require the state Agriculture Department to adopt rules on treatment and care of elephants that are consistent with standards set by its federal counterpart.

The bill faces further House and Senate votes.

AP-ES-05-09-03 1521EDT

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