A State House committee that was appointed to work out differing House and Senate distracted driving bills has reached agreement on new legislation that could be presented to legislators this week.
The proposal would restrict the use of hand-held cellphones while driving and update existing law regarding racial profiling by law enforcement, the committee co-chairs, state Representative William M. Straus and state Senator Joseph A. Boncore, announced Friday.
Boncore, a Winthrop Democrat, and Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat, said they signed a conference report that is being circulated for signatures of the other Senate and House conference committee members.
The two lawmakers anticipated the conference report will be filed with the House clerk’s office on Monday and that the full membership of the House and Senate would review the report during the week.
The final language of the report will be released when it is filed with the House clerk, according to Friday’s statement. It was not immediately clear Friday night how the new legislation would change the racial profiling law in Massachusetts.
Straus, in an e-mail Friday night, reiterated that the report’s language will be made public when it is filed “in fairness to the conference committee members who have yet to sign the report.” A message left with Boncore was not immediately returned Friday night.
While Governor Charlie Baker and many key lawmakers have agreed for some time that a ban of hand-held devices while driving was necessary, there was concern legislation would increase racial profiling by police. Some lawmakers said such a law could increase the number of traffic stops of black and Hispanic drivers.
Earlier this year, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would require police to record the “perceived race and ethnicity” of each driver who is stopped.
The Senate’s approval of a bill to ban use of hand-held devices while driving came weeks after the House overwhelmingly passed its own version of the legislation.
The House bill would require officers to record the racial data only when a warning or citation is issued.
The two bills were sent to a House-Senate conference committee to work out their differences.
At least 18 other states that have passed hands-free-driving legislation.
Roadway safety advocates who spent the last week pushing House and Senate negotiators to reach an agreement cheered the news Friday night.
Earlier Friday, activists had issued a press release calling on lawmakers to finalize the language in recognition of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic victims on Sunday.
“We’re very excited,” said Stacy Thompson, director of the Livable Streets Alliance, in a phone interview Friday night. “We are deeply appreciative they took this seriously.”
Thompson noted, however, that activists still want lawmakers to take up other safety laws, such as rules that could require some truck fleet owners to outfit their vehicles with side guards, making them safer around cyclists and pedestrians.
“In terms of reducing the number of fatalities on our streets, we’re going to be back for more,” she said.