Friday, May 7, 2010

Why state didn't pass a texting bill

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, represents District 25 and Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, represents District 16.


As we drive down the streets in our towns and see drivers who are texting, we ask ourselves why didn't the Idaho Legislature adopt a no-cell-phone-texting bill during this legislative session?

We have research now that says texting is as bad as driving under the influence. Virginia Tech did a thorough study of truck drivers and automobile drivers and came up with this data. According to The New York Times, 90 percent of adults say sending a text message while driving should be illegal. There was no difference in support based on region of the country, party identification or whether the respondent owned a cell phone.

In addition, many young people attended the committee hearing and asked for a ban on texting. In their own experiences they could cite examples of why they know this is dangerous. "Give us a law," they said. Driving is too complicated and dangerous to mix with anything that divides the driver's attention.

When the bill came to the House, we were surprised to see that the speaker sent it to the Ways and Means Committee. This is considered the "graveyard" for bills that the House Republican leadership has no interest in bringing to a House committee.

Then at the second-to-the-last day of the session, out pops a new bill on texting—HO729. Rather than having a full hearing in the relevant committee, the bill was sent from the Ways and Means Committee to the House floor. The other function of this committee is to bring legislation to the House floor that is sponsored by the House Republican leadership. The bill was not as comprehensive as the Senate legislation, which had been vetted by numerous groups over the previous summer and was even brought forward at the end of last session.

However, the House Ways and Means bill was better than nothing, and after a debate lasting almost an hour, the bill passed the House floor on March 26 by a 51-16 margin and went to the Senate. The Senate also thought this new bill was lacking and actually amended the bill to increase the infraction to a misdemeanor if the texting created a casualty or property damage. It passed the Senate 30-4 on March 29. Rep. Steve Kren, the sponsor of the House Ways and Means Committee bill, stood up on the floor and said that he didn't like the Senate amendments and suggested that the bill be killed then and there. By now, we are on the last day of the session.

Instead, House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke moved that the Senate-amended bill be considered by the full House. A spirited debate ensued. However, the motion failed because it required a two-thirds vote on suspending the rules to vote on H0729 and the vote was 37-30. The speaker declared that since less than two-thirds of the membership voted in the affirmative, the motion failed.

What didn't the majority of the Republicans like about the bill? They used the argument that we already have "inattentive driving" and don't need something specific like a ban on texting. They even said that texting was no different than putting on makeup. Disregarding the science-based research, they decided that they were the experts and that this legislation wasn't needed. Some of them thought that the bill just wasn't specific enough on how the enforcement would be carried out.

We write this because we think that the public really needs to know the story. We think it is important to hold our elected officials accountable when constituents come forth and ask for legislation, when science-based research exists to back up the need and when legislation is put forth that is a beginning to address a problem. We voted for the bill in all its forms.

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