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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Lawmakers fail again on texting ban

Betsy Z.Russell

BOISE – For a third year in a row, the Idaho Legislature has been unable to agree on a new law to ban texting while driving.

The only bill considered this year, HB 141a, was killed in the House last week after much debate.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told the House, “This is not a perfect bill, I will grant you that.” He said, “Texting never killed anyone. That person taking their eyes off the road while they were doing that is what killed somebody.”

The bill didn’t actually address texting; it said anyone who’s distracted while driving because of using a hand-held electronic device could be cited for an infraction. That meant anyone who could text while driving without becoming distracted – without changing driving behavior – was OK.

Objections came from those who want to ban texting while driving, and from those who don’t.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the bill wouldn’t cover a driver who’s distracted by eating a hamburger while driving, because a hamburger isn’t an electronic device.

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “To me the language in this is just absolutely too ambiguous to justify what we’re trying to accomplish. I am totally opposed to texting while driving. But that isn’t what the bill says.” Talking on a cellphone still enables a driver to “see out of your windshield, see out of your side windows, see what’s going on around you.” On the other hand, “If you’re texting, you’re probably looking down, have both hands off the wheel and with your thumbs going. … Let’s solve this texting problem.”

North Idaho representatives split on the bill. Those voting in favor included Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover; Phil Hart, R-Athol; Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Tom Trail, R-Moscow.

Those voting against included Reps. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Rep. Julie Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene; Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Ahead of referendum …

Two “trailer bills,” or bills that follow after and amend other bills, were introduced in the House last week to amend already signed SB 1108, the teacher contract bill, and SB 1110, the teacher merit-pay bill. They make a series of mostly minor changes, but both bills also add emergency clauses to the already enacted laws, which would prevent a planned referendum campaign from blocking them from taking effect before the November 2012 election.

Here’s why: Under Section 34-1803 of Idaho Code, referendum petitions, which are petitions to have voters overturn a law passed by the Legislature, must be filed within 60 days after the final adjournment of the session of the Legislature in which the bill was passed. The filing of the petition places the matter on the next biennial general election ballot, which in this case would be November 2012. And, the law says, “Any measure so referred to the people shall take effect and become a law when it is approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon, and not otherwise.”

That means laws that take effect July 1, like most state laws, would be blocked until after the public vote. But laws with emergency clauses, which already would be in effect at the time of the filing of the referendum petition, wouldn’t be blocked – they’d be in effect until voters overturned them.

There was no mention of this issue when both bills were introduced in the House Education Committee; they’re sponsored by Senate Education Chairman John Goedde and House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, both Coeur d’Alene Republicans.

Nonini, asked later about the bills, said they “take care of the business we need to take care of.”

KTEC bill passes

HB 236, the bill to allow the Kootenai Technical Education Campus, a joint project of three North Idaho school districts, to start construction a year earlier by lifting a requirement to wait until all money from a tax levy has been collected, has passed the Senate on a 34-1 vote and now heads to the governor’s desk.

This is the second version of the bill, after the first aroused concerns in a House committee. This one drew questions in the Senate last week, causing a day’s delay before it was taken up. Goedde said the bill is written in such a way that “there’s no obligation to the state should a shortfall occur.” Essentially, the bill puts the risk on the contractor; contractors testified at an earlier committee hearing that they were OK with that.

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