Local News

Chapel Hill to consider cellphone, same-sex marriage bans

Posted March 12, 2012 8:21 a.m. EDT
Updated March 13, 2012 1:54 p.m. EDT

— The Chapel Hill Town Council will meet Monday to consider a proposed ban on nearly all cellphone use by drivers and a resolution opposing a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

Town leaders have been considering a cellphone ban for two years, but whether they have the authority to enforce it has been contested.

A letter from an assistant state attorney general stating that the council lacks that authority divided council members on how to move forward at a meeting in February.

"We would pass a law we have been told by the attorney general we do not have the authority to enact," Councilman Matt Czajkowski said.

The town attorney said the Attorney General's Office made its decision without seeing all the details of the proposed ban. The attorney said the ban could be challenged in court, but he thinks it could hold its own.

"I think it will be determined to be the right thing to do for the state of North Carolina," Councilman Jim Ward said.

Councilman Gene Pease said he didn't like that the proposal went so far as to ban using hands-free devices.

"I can't quite get my arms around going to a full ban. I just don't quite understand it," he said.

Councilwoman Penny Rich expressed full support for the measure at a September meeting.

"It is a small town with a lot of people on cell phones in cars," she said. "(It's a) a big, big concern."

If the proposal is approved, it would be the first of its kind passed by a municipality in North Carolina. 

The proposal makes cellphone use behind the wheel a secondary offense, meaning an officer must first stop a vehicle for another reason before issuing a citation for violating the ban.

North Carolina state law prohibits drivers age 18 and under from using cellphones and also makes texting while driving illegal when a car is in motion. Ten states and the District of Columbia have bans on using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The town council will also consider a resolution encouraging people to vote against a measure to ban same-sex marriage.

The measure would amend the state constitution to outlaw any legal union other than marriage between a man and woman. Current state law already defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

North Carolinians will vote on the proposed amendment May 8.