Bill of the Week

Will third time be a charm for statewide texting ban?

Bill of the Week

House Bill 80

Author: Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland
Filed: Nov. 10, 2014. Passed by House: March 26

How time changes. A decade ago, Tom Craddick was the bane of the Texas House: an archconservative who, as speaker, sent his foes scurrying. As a backbencher, he has become the model of bipartisan conviviality and common-sense legislation, on no issue more so than on championing the ban on texting while driving.

House Bill 80 makes futzing with your phone while driving a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $25-99, rising to $100-200 for subsequent offenses. If the bill passes, you'll still be able to use the GPS on your phone, or make a call, but the incredibly distracting and therefore dangerous act of selecting, sending, or reading a text behind the wheel would be banned.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 40 cities around Texas have similar bans. That includes Austin, where the hands-free ordinance took effect Jan. 1. Since then, over 1,000 people have been ticketed. Such local ordinances would stay in place if they are stricter than the state law: For example, the $500 fine would stay in place locally. But the new law could end the annoying Austin loophole of letting people text at intersections, sometimes missing the light in the process.

Here's the bad news. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed almost exactly the same measure back in 2011. Back then he called it "a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults." Considering this was a man regularly chauffeured the one block from the Capitol to the Governor's Mansion (no, not kidding), his knowledge of driving habits may be limited.

Undeterred, Craddick tried again in 2013, but his HB 63 stalled in committee as legislators blew a gasket over reproductive rights. Now he is back with HB 80. The committee process undoubtedly strengthened the measure, including an amendment by Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, requiring TXDoT signs where every state and U.S. highway enters Texas, so no one can claim they didn't know the rules. And Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irv­ing, added protections for CB radio users, who still play a vital role in communications during emergencies. The only real red flag from the Dems came from Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who was leery of giving cops another loose excuse to pull people over.

So, will the third time be the charm? Well, HB 80 passed the House 104-39, with the standard cadre of Tea Party panderers and reflexive anti-regulators on the losing side. Now it's with the Senate, and there's plenty of time left in the session to get it to the floor, where Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has already filed an identical measure in SB 25. As long as Gov. Greg Abbott doesn't want to sling veto ink in his first trip out with the legislature, there could be a green light for this life-saving measure.

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84th Legislature, texting, texting while driving, texting ban, HB 80, Tom Craddick, Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, Judith Zaffirini, TXDOT

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