ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Legislative leaders Tuesday decided they won't allow members to vote this year on a bill mandating hands-free only use of cell phones while driving.
Rep. Mark Uglem, the Champlin Republican who is the lead author of the bill, said he received word Tuesday morning the measure wouldn't be put on the House calendar in the remaining few days of the 2018 session.
He said House Majority Leader broke the news to him, but didn't offer any explanations on behalf of the internal committee that made the decision.
"Part of the reason I’m here, or any representative or senator is here, is to take care of our constituents. And our constituents are dying," Rep. Uglem told KARE.
" So I’m extremely distressed and, frankly, very mystified. It just goes right back to why people don’t like government, and why politicians have a very bad reputation."
Uglem's bill had made it through all the necessary committees, and enjoyed support from the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association, the Minnesota State Patrol, MADD, Minnesota Association and many other groups.
He said he's often told that the hands-free proposal resembles the Sunday liquor bill, a change that was inevitable and popular, and yet took many years to get past the opponents in the legislature. Uglem disagrees.
"People say 'It’s kind of like Sunday liquor' but there’s no comparison, none whatsoever," Uglem explained. "This is the biggest single public safety issue on our roads today, and we are not addressing it."
People who've lost loved ones to distracted drivers, who've lobbied two years for this bill, gathered outside the State Capitol to demand answers and action.
"Why?! Give me an explanation!?," Vijay Dixit told reporters. "Just tell us in simple English why you're not giving this a vote!"
Dixit's daughter Shreya was killed at the age of 19 in 2007, when the young woman she was riding with reached for a napkin and lost control of her car. He said the action was an affront to Shreya and the other victims.
"Those sons and daughters, husbands and wives, their bodies are rolling in their graves! Rolling in their graves! Rolling in their graves!"
Greg Tikalsky of New Prague, whose father was killed by a woman answering emails while driving, said the decision to block the bill from the House floor was "morally reprehensible" and "bad government."
Tikalsky said the situation made it appear that the entire legislature is controlled by a handful of lawmakers.
Until this week, the pressure had been on Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, for not allowing hearings on the bill in the Senate, which effectively stopped the legislation from advancing in that chamber.
But Sen.Gazelka, a Nisswa Republican, told supports on Friday he would allow the Senate to consider the hands-free bill if it passed the House first. The shifted the pressure to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, to allow a vote on Uglem's bill.
Rep. Daudt wasn't available for comment on the issue Tuesday.
Rep. Uglem said there was vote in the closed-door meeting of the House GOP Caucus, and 53 Republican representatives expressed support for his bill. So it would've taken at least 15 Democrats to cross over and vote for it, but that wouldn't have been a problem considering DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein of Minneapolis is the co-author of the bill.
"Some people claims my bill would infringe on personal freedoms," Uglem said. "People that are distracted driving, that are Facebooking, that are Snapchatting, that are playing games, trading stocks, making dinner reservations, they’re infringing on my right to safe roads!"
Uglem is retiring from the legislature after this session, so he won't be the one carrying the banner in the House next year.