Support is growing for a statewide texting and driving ban.
South Dakota lawmakers in both the state Senate and the state House of Representatives in Pierre have passed two different versions by wide margins. Legislators will now have to work out the differences in the final two weeks of the session.
Several cities, including Sioux Falls, have already passed texting while driving bans over the past few years. Most of those ordinances make texting and driving a primary offense, meaning a driver can be pulled over if an officer sees them texting behind the wheel.
Both of the versions passed in the House and the Senate would make it a secondary offense statewide, but the main difference in the legislation lies in whether those cities would still be able to enforce them.
"This is something that I think needs to be uniform throughout the state," Representative Jim Stalzer (R) Sioux Falls said Friday at a Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce Legislative Coffee event.
"I do support the Senate bill allowing for the local control of texting while driving," Representative Christine Erickson (R) Sioux Falls said.
The Senate bill makes texting and driving a secondary offense with a $100 fine - it would also leave local laws in place.
The House version is also a secondary offense but tapping out a text behind the wheel in that version would be a $25 dollar fine. The House bill would also override any local bans.
Supporters of the House legislation say its written that way because courts have ruled that cities can't have harsher penalties for traffic violations than the state.
"Since 1929 it has been on the books that municipalities, or counties, cannot make traffic laws more stringent than the state which means that if these local bans continue it is very likely we'll see litigation," Representative Stalzer said.
And while the details still need to be worked out most lawmakers agree a statewide ban needs to be in place.
"I think it's a culture we need to set just like the seat belt law. Nobody liked that and we've seen how many lives that have been saved over time," Erickson said.
Republican Senator David Omdahl of Sioux Falls was the only lawmaker to speak out against a texting and driving ban at Friday’s Legislative Coffee. Omdahl says the bans being debated are nothing but ‘feel-good’ legislation that don't have any teeth. He doesn't think the legislation will do much to stop texting and driving.
-Secondary Offense -Secondary Offense
-$25 fine -$100 fine
-Overrides city bans -Does not change city and local bans already enacted