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Another try for state texting ban

Gov. Dennis Daugaard delivers his budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year to the South Dakota Legislature on Dec. 3 in the House Chambers at the Capitol in Pierre. The legislative session begins at noon Tuesday. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

District 20’s state senator says polls in South Dakota show between 85 and 95 percent of people agree that texting while driving should be banned statewide.

0 Talk about it

Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, plans to again introduce a texting-while-driving ban in the 2014 legislative session, which starts at noon Tuesday. In District 20, he represents Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties.

“We need to change the culture,” Vehle said. “Just like drinking and driving, a law will not stop all texting while driving, but once people realize it’s illegal it will be reduced by a huge amount.”

At least seven cities — Mitchell, Aberdeen, Brookings, Huron, Sioux Falls, Vermillion and Watertown — and Pennington County have enacted texting-while-driving bans, Vehle said. That gives him hope the ban will pass this time. For the last five sessions, Vehle has unsuccessfully supported a texting-while-driving ban.

He said the current texting-while-driving laws are patchwork and there should be a statewide law making texting while driving illegal.

Aside from that long-fought issue, Vehle said he has a couple of other bills he may introduce, but he is not ready to divulge details.

Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell, said a few bills came out of the Domestic Abuse Task Force she sat on this summer, but she doesn’t know which she may be primary sponsor of yet. One bill will deal with changing the definition of domestic abuse to make it gender neutral, she said. Another will deal with children and allowing judges to order them removed from domestically violent situations — whether verbally violent or physically, she said.

“If they can’t remove kids from that situation, then the whole circle of domestic abuse will never go away,” she said.

Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, said he doesn’t have any current plans to introduce bills this session, but he is working on a couple of ideas.

He also noted his health is improving, saying he’s “getting stronger every day.” Due to some health issues, Carson missed some time during the 2013 legislative session.

Big issues

Rozum said a lack of cash flow from the federal government could hinder the state in regard to supporting the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare.

“I think this will be a major discussion,” she said. “Most importantly, on this side if the government funding is no longer available, what happens at the state level?”

Vehle said there will be a big discussion about Medicaid and whether to expand the number of people covered under the program.

Rozum said economic development will also be a hot topic, particularly that of transparency within the department. She referred to the scandal that has bloomed since the October suicide of Richard Benda, the former secretary of tourism and state development. Revelations have since arisen about investigations into his department and the state’s involvement with the use of a federal immigration program to attract investors for an Aberdeen beef plant.

“There’s no doubt there needs to be more transparency,” Rozum said.

Vehle said economic development and the immigration program will come under scrutiny, but all investigations into the situation need to be done before the Legislature steps in to make any decisions.

Carson said education funding will be a big topic, along with discussion about the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — and gun control, but he’s not sure what that discussion might be. All three legislators agreed education and Common Core standards, and money and what to do with surplus funds, will also be hot topics this year.

Carson said he heard there will be discussion about Pledge of Allegiance requirements in schools, abortion and repealing the death penalty.

He does not support a repeal of the death penalty, he said.

“The only reason someone is put on death row is because they committed such a heinous crime they deserve to be there,” Carson said.