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House passes softer texting-while-driving bill

Sat., March 27, 2010

BOISE – Texting while driving would become an infraction in Idaho under legislation that was introduced in and passed by the state House in a single day Friday.

The measure, HB 729, would replace tougher legislation that earlier passed the state Senate; it would have added texting while driving to Idaho’s inattentive driving statute, making it a misdemeanor.

Dozens of teens testified in favor of the ban at hearings on the earlier bill, as did law enforcement officials.

But Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, said the Senate bill went too far by making the offense a misdemeanor, raising the possibility of jury trials. Under his new version, a first-time violation for texting while driving would bring a $50 fine, while subsequent violations would mean a $100 fine.

House members debated for more than an hour over the new bill, with some saying they liked the tougher bill better and others opposing the idea of outlawing texting while driving. The new bill would need Senate passage and the governor’s signature to become law. Though Idaho lawmakers had hoped to adjourn their session Friday, they didn’t finish, and both houses will be back in session Monday.

Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, said she doesn’t know how to text but said she thought current laws were sufficient. “I can’t see where it’s going to change the fact that it’s still inattentive driving, no matter what you call it, so I can’t support this bill,” she told the House.

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said he didn’t like the fact that law enforcement and emergency responders would be exempt from the ban. “I might like it better if legislators performing their duties were exempt from this,” he said.

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, said the definition of texting in the new bill leaves out many uses of handheld devices that are just as distracting to drivers as sending a text message. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said the bill is flawed – and said the previous one was too – but asked that lawmakers pass it anyway. He said the publicity surrounding the bill and the issue will deter people from texting and driving – and save lives – if lawmakers pass the bill this year.

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