MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A bill requiring drivers to use hands-free phones took a major step forward Monday at the Minnesota Capitol. It could become law as soon as Aug. 1.

The Conference Committee’s vote was unanimous, showing a groundswell of support for a law banning the handheld use of cellphones while driving.

Families who lost loved ones to distracted driving embraced.

Vijay Dixit’s daughter, Shreya, was killed in a distracted driving crash in 2007.

“Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us. Thank you to all the families have joined here,” Dixit said.

The DFL Chairman of the Minnesota House Transportation Committee was exuberant.

“This is a historic day. We did something that will save lives in Minnesota,” Frank Hornstein said.

Some powerful Republicans say they had a change of heart over the bill.

“Two years ago, I was not in favor of this bill. I did a complete 180. It was the families that testified in the Transportation Committee where they would tell these heartrending stories, and yeah I changed,” said Sen. Scott Newman, GOP chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The penalties would be similar to a traffic ticket. A first-time violation would be a fine of $50. A second or subsequent violation would be $275.

The bill now heads back to the full House and Senate where it’s expected to pass.

A separate bill that would make the penalties much tougher is also moving forward at the legislature. It has already passed the House. It would make penalties similar to those for a DUI. It’s not clear if it can also pass the Minnesota Senate.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign a hands-free bill if it gets to his desk.

Esme Murphy