For the fourth session in a row, the Texas House of Representatives has passed a bill to implement a statewide ban on texting while driving. But the legislation continues to be a hard sell in the Senate.
Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) has been working on such a ban for ten years. She filed the first bills of the legislative session and the first was Senate Bill 31 (SB31), the companion to House Bill 62 (HB62), which bans texting while driving.
SB31 was already been voted out of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, but the bill was never brought to the floor for a vote. Zaffirini told KVUE News that's because the Lieutenant Governor anticipated there would be changes made to HB62.
The House did make changes before passing the bill. Monday morning, Zaffirini presented those changes and her committee substitute, or additional changes, to the Senate Committee on State Affairs.
"We know that 101 cities in Texas have some sort of ordinance, they all vary," Zaffirini said. "And the problem is, say you're driving from your hometown to Austin. How many different cities have ordinances and there's no law or ordinances between those cities. This would create a statewide standard. And that would truly save lives."
Senator Zaffirini said there are 21 senators on board to pass a ban. But to get that support, she had to make the following changes:
- Remove an amendment related to the cost of the ticket so that court costs and fees are not included in the total fine amount.
- Drivers can only be issued a ticket if they are texting in the presence or view of an officer
- If someone is killed or seriously injured as a result of a crash where the driver is found to have been texting, the driver is subject to a Class A misdemeanor offense
- Drivers will be allowed to use their phones for GPS, navigation apps or to play music
- The state law created by the bill preempts all city ordinances in regards to texting
That last change is particularly notable for people in Austin. Under the city's hands-free ordinance, drivers and bicyclists are not allowed to have an electronic device in their hands when their vehicle or bike is moving unless they are calling 911. If the bill becomes law, a driver will be allowed to use their GPS or play music, but texting is still out of the question.
The committee didn't vote on the bill, but could later this week. If it is voted out of committee, it will head to the full Senate.