The measure would increase the fine for a first offense from $125 to $150. Fines for second and third offenses would go from $250 to $400, and $300 to $500. People who text while driving would also be assessed one point on their driving record and the violation would also show up when insurance companies ask for drivers' information.
The legislation now goes to the governor. The tougher penalties come as New York state is also looking to crack down on drivers who text behind the wheel. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said tougher penalties will take effect there Saturday.
In other matters, salaries for judges would increase by 5.3 percent next month and then another 5.3 percent on July 1, 2014. Superior Court judges are currently paid $146,780 per year, and that would rise to $162,751 by July 2014. The chief justice of the State Supreme Court would rise from $175,645 to $194,757 by the next fiscal year.
Mixed Martial Arts
The Senate also gave final approval to a measure that legalizes and regulates the fast growing sport of mixed martial arts.
If the governor signs the bill, Connecticut will join 48 other states that permit MMA competitions, leaving New York as the lone holdout. A spokesman said the governor will review it when it gets to his desk.
Efforts to legalize MMA coasted through the House last year but stalled in the Senate. This year, the bill passed in the Senate 26 to 9, with the chamber's two top leaders, Democrats Donald E. Williams Jr. and Martin M. Looney, voting against it.
MMA incorporates techniques from wrestling, judo, karate, taekwondo and other martial arts. The bill allows the state to tax and regulate MMA matches. It gives the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection the power to inspect venues where the competitions are held and directs the commissioner to devise rules for competition.
Those behind the drive to bring the sport to the state couched their argument in economic development terms. Sen. Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport, predicted MMA matches will draw crowds of people to his city, pumping tens of thousands of dollars into restaurants and hotels. "This is a good business bill,'' he said.
Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, noted that MMA matches are already held at the state's casinos. "Why not allow the communities that are struggling economically to benefit?" he asked.
But critics say they are put off by the raw intensity of the sport. Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat who spent 30 years as an educator, said MMA is emblematic of "a culture of violence."
Courant staff writers Matthew Sturdevant and Jenny Wilson contributed to this story.