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Idaho House OKs texting ban

Wed., March 21, 2012

Senate must approve amendment eliminating exemptions

BOISE – After years of debate, the Idaho House has passed a ban on texting while driving, voting 53-17 in favor of legislation proposed by Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene.

The bill, S.B. 1274a, now returns to the Senate for concurrence on a House amendment that removed an exemption for law enforcement or emergency vehicles. Hammond backed the amendment, and law enforcement agencies said they didn’t want or need the exemption.

In January, 18-year-old Taylor Sauer, of Caldwell, died in an Idaho freeway crash while texting. Her surviving family members offered tearful testimony in favor of the bill in committee hearings in both houses.

“I just wish I could text you all and tell you to vote for it,” Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, the bill’s House sponsor, told the House. “But I’m just going to ask you, please support this legislation. We need to send a strong message. … Don’t you just want to shake people and say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It truly takes away your attention in three critical areas for driving.”

The 17 “no” votes included six from North Idaho representatives: Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Phil Hart, R-Athol; Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene.

The bill makes texting while driving an infraction. Idaho currently has misdemeanor penalties for inattentive driving but, unlike most states, no specific law banning texting while driving. If the Senate approves the amendment and the governor signs the bill into law, it will take effect July 1.

This year’s bill got strong support from many who showed up to testify in committee hearings, from teens and law enforcement to AAA and insurers.

Idaho’s Legislature has considered texting bans for each of the past three years but has never successfully passed one. Two years ago, a ban that had passed the Senate died on the final night of the legislative session in the House, when then-Rep. Raul Labrador, now a U.S. congressman, used a parliamentary maneuver to force a two-thirds vote. The bill failed, with just a 37-30 majority.

Last year’s version would have banned texting while driving if it distracted the driver, but not if it didn’t; it failed.

As in past years, opponents raised questions about how the ban could be enforced and suggested it constituted government overreach.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, told the House, “It’s incredibly irresponsible to text while you’re driving. It puts other people’s lives in danger. And if this bill gives a message to some people that that’s not the right thing to do, I think it’s very much worthwhile.”

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