Senate committee vote keeps texting ban bill alive - KOTA Territory News

Senate committee vote keeps texting ban bill alive

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by Jack Siebold, MyTown editor

"If we do not pass this, we run the risk of having nothing," Senator Larry Rhoden, Senate State Affairs Committee chairman warned fellow committee members Wednesday morning.  With that, the committee narrowly passed (on a 5-4 vote) a House version of a texting and driving ban bill.

House Bill 1177, sponsored by Representative Brian Gosch, would ban texting while driving and at the same time prohibit municipalities and counties from doing the same thing.  It calls for a $25 fine for a secondary offense.  Initially, Gosch's bill was just to stop a hodgepodge of local ordinances but he quickly amended it to include the texting ban.

"I've never been a real supporter of texting bans, but we have inconsistent laws across the state when it comes to texting.  This is a way to try and alleviate that problem," Senator Ryan Maher said in support of HB 1177.

Senate Bill 179 also bans texting but it offers towns some control; as well as making it a $100 fine.  That version was supported by Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender who called it a "better pill" for the issue.  "Texting has become an epidemic and it isn't just young people," he said.

Bob Miller, lobbyist for the South Dakota Mass Transit Association, pleaded with the senators to do something.  "We don't care how you do it; just get it done this year," he said.

Oddly, one of the strongest opponents Wednesday to the bill is a strong advocate for a texting and driving ban -- Senator Craig Tieszan, another state affairs committee member and a retired Rapid City police chief.  What rankled Tieszan is the Legislature's failure in recent years to pass a texting ban while municipalities took the lead.  He just couldn't vote for a bill that took away that local control.

If the House bill makes it through a Senate floor vote; and SB 179 survives debate in the House, the two bills will end up in a conference committee so a compromise can be hammered out.  

SB 179, as well as a bill stiffening fines for commercial drivers who use cell phones, is in the House Transportation Committee Thursday morning.

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