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Bipartisan Opposition to Texting Ban

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The House debated HB 62 by Rep. Tom Craddick today, a bill to ban texting while driving statewide.

The bill has been proposed many times in past sessions and has been a perennial failure. It actually made it to the governor’s desk once, only to be vetoed due to his concern for peoples’ liberties.

Governor Rick Perry called it a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

In that vein, conservative Republicans teamed up with some Democrats who often support civil liberty legislation in an attempt to weaken the bill. Everyone agreed texting while driving is dangerous, but the opponents argued the legislation is unnecessary and threatens people with being wrongfully charged.

Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton led the charge against the bill, claiming the bill was based on fear so the government can take away more of the people’s freedoms. On a practical level, he pointed out that “distracted driving” is already an offense, making this bill unnecessary.

Opponents also argued throughout the day that the bill is unenforceable, as it requires a police officer to actually witness a person sending or reading a text. Simply looking at a phone is not prohibited in the bill.

At multiple points in the debate, Dutton held up his phone and asked other Representatives, “Can you see what I’m doing on my phone?”

In a statement explaining his vote, Republican Rep. Michael Schofield summed up his opposition to the bill:

“A driver whose texting is not causing distracted driving should not be considered to be committing a crime while the driver in the next car who is reading directions from a piece of paper and not looking at the road is not.

“Moreover, I believe the bill likely will cause more, rather than less, unsafe driving. Texting has become such an omnipresent part of so many peoples’ lives that I am concerned that if it becomes illegal to text while driving, many drivers will simply lower their phones farther from eye level to avoid detection, taking their eyes even further from the road and increasing the likelihood of accidents.”

In all, there were 17 amendments offered and a few more that were withdrawn. Ultimately, after nearly 3 hours of debate, only a handful passed.

Here’s the play by play:

As soon as the bill was introduced, two members of the newly formed (Republican) Freedom Caucus were ready with points of order. The first came from Rep. Jonathan Stickland, the second from Rep. Tony Tinderholt. Both were overruled by the Speaker.

Next, Reps. Dutton and Terry Canales, both Democrats, began questioning the author.

Dutton asked how the police could prove that a person was texting, as opposed to looking at the internet or typing in their GPS. He pointed out language in the bill which prohibits the police from seizing the device, saying that they can’t know whether a person was texting if they can’t look at the phone. On this basis, he argued the bill was unenforceable.

Canales, who eventually would vote FOR the bill, raised his concern that the bill makes it illegal to even read a message. He said that even the time on the phone is a message from the service provider. Would checking the clock get him a ticket?

We will point out that many people mount their phones on their windshields for GPS purposes. And many phones notify users of text messages via pop-ups on the screen. Under this bill, even looking at the phone and reading the pop-up message would constitute an offense.

Rep. Eric Johnson followed Canales, asking whether it was wise to pass a law that would increase negative interactions between police and minority communities. He followed with an amendment to protect drivers by limiting the penalty to a fine and prohibiting arrest. Craddick found the amendment favorable and it passed without objection.

Dutton followed with his first of 6 amendments.

Dutton 1, as we’ll call it, would have prohibited police officers from stopping someone solely because they believed them to be texting. His amendment would have allowed officers to cite someone only after stopping them for a separate violation. Canales returned insinuating that nothing would stop him from reading certain texts, saying that “any text from my wife is an emergency.” The amendment failed.

Dutton 2 would have reset the penalty clock every year. Currently, the bill levies a $99 fine on motorists for their first texting offense, and up to $200 for each subsequent offense over his or her lifetime. His amendment failed.

Dutton 3 would have required counties to report the number of violations they have cited so the legislature can determine whether this law is necessary at all. It failed.

Dutton 4 would have made the bill effective only on highways with speed limits of 60 mph or more. It failed.

Dutton then took a break and Rep. Jeff Leach offered the “Waze Amendment.” Waze is an app that allows users to identify road hazards such as potholes and large objects, but it requires the user to touch a couple buttons on the screen. Craddick allowed the amendment and it was adopted without objection.

Dutton 5 attempted to reset the penalty clock every 6 months, similar to Dutton 2. It failed.

Dutton 6 attempted to require all law-enforcement agencies to report the number of texting citations issued, similar to Dutton 3. It failed.

Rep. Gary Van Deaver then offered an amendment to require cities to post signage if their regulations were stricter than the state’s. It was acceptable to Craddick and passed without objection.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi initiated a 40-minute showdown on an amendment regarding state preemption vs. patchwork local ordinances. 

With or without Rinaldi’s amendment, HB 62 creates a statewide mandate that local law enforcement cite drivers under this bill. But some cities already have ordinances on their books which go so far as to regulate talking on the phone at all, or operating a GPS. Rinaldi’s amendment would have brought those regulations under the state’s purview. It would have prohibited any city from adopting rules stricter than the state’s.

Supporters hailed this as an opportunity to remove the confusion drivers face when moving around the state and passing through various local jurisdictions.

In effect, his amendment would have abolished city regulations in places like Austin and San

Antonio. Some legislators told us they believed he had the votes to pass it until debate dragged on, which may have given those city governments time to lobby their legislators against it.

The amendment failed by just 14 votes.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, a new addition to the conservative wing, then offered an amendment which would have prevented officers from obtaining search warrants to look through drivers’ phones, ostensibly for evidence of texting. It failed.

Next, Rep. Tony Tinderholt offered an amendment to make the bill apply only when motorists are exceeding 10 mph. Drivers stuck in non- or slow-moving traffic would not be cited for texting under this amendment. But it failed as well.

Rep. Lance Gooden offered the opposition its only real victory of the day, though he was not opposed to the bill itself. His amendment, which was adopted 93-53, included court fees in the citation amounts. In other words, additional fees for processing the ticket cannot be slapped onto the $99 fine for first offenders, or the $200 for repeat offenders.

Rep. Gene Wu, a joint-author spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying the courts “rely” on those fees. Rep. Stickland leapt to the microphone and asked whether it was the court’s job to generate revenue or provide justice. Wu responded, “I can’t answer that.”

Dutton returned to the microphone and told Wu that the bill hurts poor people enough as it is, and argued that the Gooden amendment would soften the blow. Wu argued that poor people will actually benefit from the bill because the money generated would go into the state’s general revenue fund, to “pay for things we like.”

Finally, Rep. Matt Krause offered the last amendment. His was acceptable to Craddick and passed without objection. It says that a motorist cannot be charged under both state and exiting local ordinances.

Basically it prevents a person from being fined twice at the same time.

The ideological divide can basically be summed up in a late exchange between Reps. Dutton and Wu.

Dutton asked how a police officer can provide evidence in court and prove someone was texting and not attempting to make a phone call or use their GPS. Wu said, “I trust our police officers” to tell the truth.

It’s the government’s word against yours.

HB 62 passed to Third Reading 113-32. It must be approved by the House one more time before moving to the Senate.

Here’s the record vote:

Yeas — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Are´valo; Ashby; Bailes; Bernal; Blanco; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burkett; Burrows; Button; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Coleman; Collier; Cook; Cortez; Cosper; Craddick; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Faircloth; Fallon; Farrar; Flynn; Frullo; Geren; Gervin-Hawkins; Giddings; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Herrero; Hinojosa; Howard; Huberty; Hunter; Isaac; Israel; Johnson, E.; Kacal; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Kuempel; Lambert; Landgraf; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Longoria; Lozano; Lucio; Martinez; Meyer; Miller; Minjarez; Moody; Morrison; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neave; Neva´rez; Oliveira; Oliverson; Ortega; Paddie; Parker; Perez; Phillips; Pickett; Price; Raney; Raymond; Reynolds; Roberts; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Romero; Rose; Schubert; Sheffield; Shine; Simmons; Smithee; Stephenson; Stucky; Thierry; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; VanDeaver; Villalba; Walle; Workman; Wray; Wu; Zedler; Zerwas.

Nays — Bell; Burns; Cyrier; Dean; Dutton; Elkins; Frank; Guillen; Hefner; Holland; Johnson, J.; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lang; Metcalf; Murphy; Paul; Phelan; Rinaldi; Sanford; Schaefer; Schofield; Shaheen; Springer; Stickland; Swanson; Tinderholt; Vo; White; Wilson.

Present, not voting — Mr. Speaker(C).

Absent, Excused — Dukes.

Absent — Biedermann (intending to vote nay); Cain (intending to vote nay); Hernandez

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