Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Legislature considers texting ban

Exception made for emergency responders

Express Staff Writer

A bill is currently in a Senate committee that would prohibit drivers from sending text messages while operating motor vehicles. Though an ordinary citizen could face a fine or potentially jail time for violations, law enforcement and medical responders would be exempt. Photo by Willy Cook

The Idaho Legislature wasted no time buckling down this month, considering bills to ban texting while driving, to allow medical use of marijuana and to evict the Occupy Boise movement from Capitol grounds.

Texting while driving

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, introduced a bill Monday that would forbid texting while driving for most operators of motor vehicles.

The bill would prevent drivers from manually texting while operating a vehicle unless the driver is a law enforcement or emergency services provider and is acting in that capacity.

Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said his department doesn't have a policy on texting and driving, but he believes emergency responders don't use text messaging while driving.

"Typically, when we're responding, our crews have a driver whose job is to get to the emergency safely," Lassman said. "There isn't any reason they would be texting while responding to an accident."

Lassman said that typically, his crews communicate through Blaine County dispatch when responding to an accident or transporting a patient to the hospital.

Sometimes, he said, ambulance crews use cell phones to communicate with hospital staff or if the communications center is down.

"It's typical in the back of the ambulance that we use cell phones," Lassman said. "But we don't text."

Proposed legislation would only prohibit the driver from sending texts manually, not using voice-activated or hands-free systems to send messages. It would allow dialing telephone numbers while driving.

The proposed penalty for a first violation would be $50, with subsequent violations costing the driver $100 plus court costs.

If an accident involving property damage or injury results from driving while texting, the driver would be charged with a misdemeanor and could face 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.

The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee. A similar bill that would prohibit all use of cell phones while driving is also awaiting a hearing.


Medical marijuana

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, introduced a bill in the House last Tuesday that would allow medical users of marijuana to possess up to two ounces without criminal consequences.

The bill clearly outlines the allowed uses for medical marijuana, including to treat seizure disorders, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, terminal illness or any chronic disease that involves severe pain, vomiting or muscle spasms.

Users of medical marijuana would be required to register with the state, carry an identification card and pass a criminal background check.

Users of medical marijuana could not be denied employment solely on the basis of their use.

Possession of three ounces or less for any purpose is now a misdemeanor, punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Users would still be prohibited from driving under the influence and smoking in public.

Trail introduced the bill in the House last session, but the legislation did not gain a hearing. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.

De-occupy Boise

The House State Affairs Committee voted 13 to 5 on Tuesday to approve legislation that would forbid camping on state property, and thereby evict the Occupy Boise protesters living on the Capitol Mall.

The bill forbids any dwellings, sleeping, cooking or storing personal belongings on state-owned or leased land except for endowment lands or lands belonging to the Department of Parks and Recreation or the Department of Fish and Game. Brenda Walters, assistant to the majority leadership, said, that list includes all state lands except for those adjacent to state-owned or leased buildings.

"It will not impact any other lands in any fashion," she said.

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said during Tuesday's committee hearing that he felt the tents in Boise showed "disrespect for our public buildings and our public grounds."

If passed by the full Legislature, state staff would evict the protestors immediately after the governor signs the bill into law. The bill now passes to the full House for consideration.

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