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Another Texting Bill Passes

February 19, 2014, 6:00 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Another Texting Bill Passes

Another bill banning texting behind the wheel moves forward in Pierre.

A version of a statewide texting ban passed a Senate committee Wednesday. It is similar to the bill already passed by the House. Still, it has differences.

In the Senate version, people caught texting behind the wheel would have to pay a $100 fine. In the House version, that would be $25.

Both bills would make texting behind the wheel a secondary offense. Some argue it's worked for seatbelts. Sen. Larry Lucas, (D) Mission, wants more in a texting law.

"I would prefer the bill was a little bit stronger in nature, that would be a primary offense instead of a secondary offense but it is what it is," Lucas said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Vehle, (R) Mitchell, said he'd like the same but he doesn't think that'll pass.

"I'm also reminded of what Albert Einstein said. And he said, 'doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity,’" Vehle said.

Vehle offered an amendment that changed other parts of the bill as well. Among other changes, it took out a section that would have allowed cities and counties to have stricter texting bans than the state.

Vehle says existing state law can determine what cities and counties can pass. He doesn't want a local control debate to be a distraction in the texting ban debate.

A majority of the committee’s senators accepted the changes and passed the bill with the amendment. Vehle says the amendment was a compromise. He came up with the changes after listening to debate over the House texting bill.

Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender says he supports the bill.

"It should not be considered a right or a personal liberty to drive a two-ton vehicle down a publicly funded highway virtually blind for several seconds at a time," Allender said.

Several others testified supporting the bill but few said whether they think the House or Senate version is better. Representing South Dakota Municipal League, Yvonne Taylor says she supports the Senate version because the larger fine sends a stronger message.

But Sen. David Omdahl, (R) Sioux Falls, voted against it.

"We have a law; it's called careless driving," Omdahl said. "I agree we need a culture change. If you really want a culture change then this fine up in Alaska with a $10,000 fine, a year in prison is what we need to go with," Omdahl said.

Even some who voted in support say they agree reckless driving laws already cover texting behind the wheel.

Omdahl was the only senator in committee who voted against the bill but others admitted they were hesitant in voting for it. The bill now moves on to the Senate floor.

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