Time runs out for texting ban in SD LegislatureSen. Vehle opposes statewide vote, considering another bill next year.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Passing a texting-while-driving ban in South Dakota is no longer a possibility this year, according to state Sen. Mike Vehle.
Vehle, R-Mitchell, was the prime sponsor of SB 142, which would have outlawed the practice of using handheld devices for sending and viewing messages while driving. It passed through the Senate Transportation Committee, which he chairs, 5-2, and then received the support of the full Senate by a 24-9 vote.
But the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Speaker of the House Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, stopped the bill in its tracks last week by an 8-5 vote.
The only chance to revive the bill was to “smoke it out,” a parliamentary procedure in which a defeated bill can be pulled from a committee and brought to a vote before the entire House or Senate. The deadline for that was Monday, Vehle said, and the bill was not revived.
“I gave them additional info and asked them to reconsider,” he said in an email Tuesday.
Vehle has supported such a ban for the last four sessions. He said before the 2013 session opened, and in the early days of it, he thought the bill had a better chance of passage this time.
“I think there are more people in favor of it than in the past,” Vehle said during a Feb. 9 cracker barrel meeting involving the three District 20 legislators and some local residents.
He said he feels more and more people are now opposed to texting while driving. While enforcing such a law may be difficult, the three-term Republican senator said there is a need for creating the law.
“What I want to do is create that culture,” Vehle said at the cracker barrel. “It happened with seat belts.”
He has also noted that drunken driving was once socially acceptable, and people often treated it as a bit of a joke. No one is laughing about it now, Vehle said.
A bill prohibiting teens from texting and driving has passed the House and awaits a clean-up process in the Senate, where an earlier version passed, and then the signature of Gov. Dennis Daugaard to become law.
Vehle said that “could be” a first step to a wider ban. He supported that bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Craig Tieszen, a retired Rapid City police chief.
Rep. Tona Rozum and Rep. Lance Carson, both Republicans from Mitchell, supported Vehle’s bill to outlaw texting and driving for all drivers on South Dakota roads and streets.
“My stance has always favored a ban,” Rozum said in an email reply to The Daily Republic. “No call, text or post is worth a life.”
She said only the House sponsor of the bill could have “smoked it out” of committee, and that didn’t happen. Rep. Charles Hoffman, R-Eureka, was the main sponsor in the House, and he had no interest in doing so, she said. The bill had 11 co-sponsors in the Senate, and 14 in the House, including Carson and Rozum.
Hoffman, in an email to The Daily Republic, said he was bring “brutally honest” when he said the bill was flawed.
“All along I wanted a petty offense and non-contributory negligence factored into the bill similar to our seat belt law,” he said. “That is the one reason I believe it failed. With a petty offense and defense language I do think it would have passed in the House similar to the teenage texting bill.”
Hoffman also said he does not “stand for smokeouts, nor do I invoke them. We will be bringing it again next year with hopefully all the right components for passage.”
Rozum said she’s unsure what would have happened if the bill had come up for a vote before the full House.
“Given the discussion on the teen ban and the reconsider, I am not sure of the fate of the full texting ban on the floor,” she said.
“The past two years we have smoked out the texting ban and lost it a second time. The better approach would have been to have it reconsidered in the committee with the new evidence. Considering the position of the chair against the ban, that wasn’t very likely.”
She noted that both Gosch and the committee vice chairman, Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, were opposed to the bill. No one spoke against it during the committee hearing, Rozum said, and several people from a variety of backgrounds testified in favor of it.
Carson, who has battled health issues in recent months, was away from the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
Vehle said he is already considering sponsoring or supporting another bill on the issue in 2014.
“Probably,” he said. “But I’ve got to let the dust settle first before deciding.”
He said while he is opposed to a “patchwork” of laws across the state, with some cities and counties banning it, and others allowing it, he does not now favor placing the issue on a statewide ballot.
“Not at this time,” Vehle said.
The Mitchell City Council discussed enacting a citywide ban on texting and driving last fall, but decided to wait to see if the Legislature would act. Mayor Ken Tracy, who proposed the ban, said last week the matter will now come before the council.