An attention-grabbing proposal emerged this week at the Vermont State House, which would make cell phone use illegal for anyone in Vermont under 21—or face punishments, such as a cash fine.
However, the bill’s author told NECN and NBC10 Boston he’s not serious about taking away teens’ cell phones. Rather, he wants the bill to make a statement about how it feels to have gun rights and other liberties targeted.
“I put it out there to try to make people think,” said Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex & Orleans Counties.
The Democrat’s bill proposes making it illegal to own a cell phone in Vermont until someone is 21, arguing phones can be really dangerous, especially while driving.
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Phones can also be used to bully kids and radicalize terrorists, according to the language of the bill, so Rodgers suggested someone should not have a device until they are the same age they need to be to drink, smoke, or buy a firearm in Vermont.
Reflecting the symbolic nature of the bill, Rodgers said he wouldn’t even support his own proposal.
Rather, the legislation is Rodgers’s way of making a statement on what he sees as lawmakers targeting gun rights.
“This was meant to say, ‘You don’t value gun rights, and you’re willing to take mine away,’” Sen. Rodgers explained. “I don’t really value my cell phone that much—how would you like it if I took that away?”
Vermont law already requires someone to be 21 to buy a firearm in most cases. Additionally, a proposal to put a waiting period on purchases to dissuade suicide here is expected to resurface, after a veto from Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, last year.
“His cell phone bill is obviously a stunt,” observed Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden County, who noted he expects some pushback from Rodgers on his bill that would restrict semi-automatic weapons in certain public places in Vermont like churches or malls.
However, Baruth said he hopes the bill is not seen as objectionable, because it will not block purchases of firearms or their legal use for hunting or target shooting.
“I think it’s a basic, common-sense rule that we’re defending the public square in this age of mass shootings,” Baruth said of his proposal.
Young people who’d be most affected by any limits on cell phones were glad to hear that even the lawmaker behind the idea doesn’t think they’ll come to pass.
“I was just kind of baffled by how that would even be a proposal,” observed Finn Cloward, a high school sophomore.
“I keep in touch with my friends across the country with my cell phone,” said Meghan Frost-Clark, a high school freshman from Brattleboro. “I keep in touch with my mom; my grandparents. It’s a tool for a lot of students—we need them.”
As for Rodgers, he indicated a hope that his provocative idea of cell phone restrictions can be a reminder about the need to consider others’ views in political debate.