Legislature(2011 - 2012)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/04/2012 01:30 PM FINANCE
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HOUSE BILL NO. 255 "An Act prohibiting the driver of a motor vehicle from reading or typing a text message or other nonvoice message or communication on a cellular telephone, computer, or personal data assistant while driving a motor vehicle." Representative Gara testified that the legislation restated the intention of a bill banning the use of video screens while driving that had passed many years ago. However, the original bill did not specifically mention texting. He detailed the importance that texting be reinstated into the law. He accepted that the definition of what was distracting to a driver was changeable, but stressed that texting could be clearly defined. He said that during a four second text message a car could advance the length of a football field. He said that studies had shown that texting while driving raised the risk of a crash or near collision twentyfold. He revealed that one-third of drivers on the road were texting while operating their vehicles. He expressed concern that lives would be lost because of texting while driving. He noted that the legislation took into consideration future technological advancements to limit typing while driving or viewing visually displayed message. Representative Joule wondered about texting by voice. Representative Gara replied that it was not covered in the legislation. The word "typing" was used in consideration of evolving technology. He relayed that the existing distracted driving statute was not enough because it did not make texting while driving a crime. He also felt that jurors would sympathize with people who texted while driving and would not consider it a crime unless it were labeled one under the law. Co-Chair Stoltze noted that the phone could be used as evidentiary on a texting case. Representative Gara agreed that the phone would record the date and time of the text. Co-Chair Stoltze asked if the court would need a sopena for the cell phone. Representative Gara believed that the accident would give probable cause to remove evidence from the car. He reiterated that juries would not convict under existing laws. He hoped that there would be a public service campaign to educate people of the dangers of texting while driving. He pointed out to the committee a letter from the chief of police in member packets (copy on file). 4:16:28 PM Representative Wilson directed attention to page 2, lines 7 through 11. She understood that the term "visual display" pertained to anything you would look at like a GPS or and OnStar map. Representative Gara replied no. He explained that line 20 of the bill contained original language that exempted mapping devices. Representative Wilson understood that a person could expect a misdemeanor fine of approximately $300 for texting while driving. Representative Gara responded only if the driver was texting while the car was in motion. Representative Wilson pointed out that the bill did not distinguish between a driver who might swerve a little, from a driver who actually hits another car or person due to texting. She understood that under the legislation both actions would be considered a misdemeanor. Representative Gara relayed that the understanding was not entirely correct. He clarified that if the driver was only texting, and did not hurt anyone, it would be considered a Class A misdemeanor. He furthered that under the current law if a driver injures someone they would be charged with reckless or negligent driving. He stressed that the addition of texting to the latter scenario moved the crime up a level. He asserted that texting while driving was knowingly dangerous, therefore causing an accident while texting could be considered a premeditated act. 4:20:00 PM Vice-chair Fairclough asked about taxi cabs. She highlighted that some taxi's had an electronic screen for communicating with dispatch. Representative Gara replied that a section for dispatch had been written into the original legislation. He cited page 3, line 3, which allowed the viewing of a dispatch screen for use of passenger transport. He though a case could be made to remove the provision, but noted that the removal could negatively impact businesses. He said that the he had not seen evidence that the dispatch screens were a major danger. Vice-chair Fairclough accepted why the provision was there. She warned that technology was advancing quickly. Representative Gara noted that even law enforcement had internal manuals that were followed concerning visual screens while driving. Vice-chair Fairclough clarified that it would not be an illegal act if a person were texting while completely stopped. Representative Gara agreed. He discussed that it was only a crime if a vehicle was moving. He stressed that the intent of the bill was not to throw innocent people in jail. 4:24:35 PM Co-Chair Thomas opined the reality of people being injured or killed because of texting while driving. He shared that he pulled over to look at any texts that he received. He did not believe officers should have the ability to text while driving. He offered strong support for the legislation. Vice-chair Fairclough MOVED to adopt CS HB 255 (JUD), 27- LS1165\T as a working document before the committee. Representative Doogan directed attention to the indeterminate fiscal note. He noted that indeterminate fiscal notes made the committee's job much harder because they know what was being agreed on in terms of cost. He believed that people should even not talk on their cell phones when driving. He urged support for the legislation. Co-Chair Thomas asked the committee to zero out the indeterminate fiscal note from the Public Defender Agency. Vice-chair Fairclough MOVED to zero out the Public Defender Agency fiscal note (OMB component number 1631). There being NO OBJECTION, it was so ordered. Representative Costello had signed on as a sponsor and was in strong support of the bill. 4:30:26 PM Co-Chair Thomas OPENED public testimony. Co-Chair Thomas CLOSED public testimony. Vice-chair Fairclough addressed the fiscal notes: Department of Law, Department of Administration, Court System, and Department of Corrections. Co-Chair Thomas MOVED to report CS HB 255 (JUD), 27- LS1165\T out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. CSHB 255(JUD) was REPORTED out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation and with one zero fiscal note from the Department of Law, one zero fiscal note for Department of Administration by the House Finance Committee and three previously published zero fiscal notes: FN1 (ADM), FN2 (COR), FN3 (CRT).