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Admin’s cell phone bill is “incomplete” according to the Senate

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean
Senate President says Senate does not deal with “incomplete” matters

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The fate of another Administration bill is heading to being rejected by the Senate as several senators were not pleased that the proposed law was “incomplete” when submitted to the Fono.

The latest bill would create a new law, which bans talking or texting while holding a cell phone or other electric devices while operating a motor vehicle on the road. The legislation, provides exemptions, such as the use of an earpiece, headphone device or device worn on a wrist to conduct a voice based communication.

Following a hearing Monday morning by the Senate Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet, senators - via consensus - agreed to pass the bill, which was reported to the Senate floor and approved in second reading during the regular session.

It was set for third and final reading on Tuesday during the Senate session, but Fai’ivae quickly introduced a verbal motion to postpone final reading and return the measure to his committee for further review. And the Senate majority agreed.

Later in the session, Senate Magalei Logovi’i, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee chairman said that several administration bills submitted are “incomplete” which has caused delay in Senate actions on these legislations.

He said it appears that the attorneys for the Administration want the Senate to complete their work. He requested if possible to have him review future and current measures to ensure completeness with the Fono legal team before bills are introduced in the Senate.

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean responded that the Senate does not deal with “incomplete” matters.  He suggested that if the committee sees that bills are incomplete, to make a decision, reject them and return to the administration.

Fai’ivae points out that this is the actual reason for moving to return the cell-phone use bill to committee, as it was missing important information, which is the penalty/fee for violating the proposed law.

He said that during the committee hearing, Attorney General Falefatu Fainu’ulelei Alailima-Utu recommended that the Senate insert in the language of the bill what senators believe would be the fines/penalties for violation of proposed law.

And therefore, he agrees with the suggestion from Magalei.

Tuaolo explained that as leader of the chamber, he is very careful of such issues, with the Senate inserting amendments to an Administration bill, in case the governor vetoes the measure.

If the committee sees that the bill is “incomplete”, the Senate President suggested to present a report to reject the bill. He said it’s not the role of the Senate to correct bills from the administration.

Additionally, he wonders whether the attorney general is given first the opportunity to review Administration bills before submitted to the Fono? He said actions taken by the Senate show that the senators and its legal team are fully aware of what’s happening.

He said this issue has a simple solution, reject incomplete bills and return them to the Governor’s Office.

The fate of the cell-phone bill was heading to being rejected, during yesterday’s Senate session, when Fai’ivae spoke about the measure and suggested that it be returned to the Administration to make the necessary revisions.  He reiterated that the bill does not provide a provision on penalties/fees for violators.

Sen. Togiola Tulafono recommended that the bill be brought back to the Senate floor for a vote to reject it and then send it back to the Administration with an explanation as the reason behind the action taken. And it’s up to the Administration on whether or not to re-submit a new revised version for Fono consideration.

The measure is expected to return to the Senate floor in the coming days for a final action to reject it.

During the Senate committee hearing on Monday, Fai’iave raised the issue of no specific provisions of penalty/fees for violators but the Alailima-Utu said there are provisions of current law, which addresses this matter. He says this would be a traffic misdemeanor and the court has the discretion on the fee that is imposed on violators.

While senators all agree to the importance of the bill, which is to protect the public, Fai’ivae said that he believes that before this measure is submitted and introduced in the Fono, a survey or research is completed on accidents that occurred in the territory due to using electronic devices while driving.

And there is also the question here, as to whether such law is necessary in the territory where the highest speed limit is between 25-30mph, according to the Fono senator.

Police Commissioner, Lefiti A. Pese, who supports the bill explained two accidents that resulted in deaths because the driver was using a cell phone while driving.

The bill’s preamble states that more than 9,000 motor vehicles are registered in the territory and as traffic volumes increase on American Samoa’s roadways, distracted driving presents a significant danger to the public.

It says that this act will promote highway safety and protect individuals by restricting the use of wireless electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.