Legislature(2011 - 2012)CAPITOL 17

01/26/2012 01:00 PM TRANSPORTATION

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved Out of Committee
Moved Out of Committee
        HB 255-PROHIBIT DIALING OR TEXTING WHILE DRIVING                                                                    
1:06:46 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR P. WILSON announced that  the first order of business would                                                               
be 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."                                                                         
1:07:07 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE LES  GARA, Alaska State Legislature,  presented HB                                                               
255  on  behalf of  the  six  co-prime sponsors:  Representatives                                                               
Thomas,  P. Wilson,  Gruenberg,  Tuck, Gatto,  and  himself.   He                                                               
stated,  as many  of you  know,  the legislature  thought it  had                                                               
passed a  bill a  few years ago  that prohibited  watching videos                                                               
and  texting while  driving.   The  aforementioned  bill was  not                                                               
written as  clearly as the courts  would have liked and  a number                                                               
of judges have taken the position  that the previous bill had not                                                               
been intended  to apply to texting.   He reported that  this case                                                               
is currently  on appeal to  the Court  of Appeals and  the matter                                                               
may go to the  Alaska Supreme Court.  He said  the reason for the                                                               
bill is to reinforce to the  public that texting while driving is                                                               
1:08:06 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  emphasized that members only  need one fact.                                                               
He   said  according   to  the   National  Conference   of  State                                                               
Legislatures (NCSL), drivers  who text while driving  are 20 more                                                               
times likely to have an accident than  those who do not text.  He                                                               
informed  members  the  woman who  co-founded  the  organization,                                                               
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD),  has now taken the issue of                                                               
"texting while driving"  on as seriously as she did  the issue of                                                               
drunk driving.   He  characterized this issue  as the  "new drunk                                                               
driving" issue.   He  was unsure of  the correlation  between the                                                               
dangers of drunk  driving and driving while texting  - whether it                                                               
would  be 20  times or  30 times  riskier -  but he  assumed that                                                               
texting presented a  similar risk since the  driver endangers the                                                               
lives of other while engaging in  this type of behavior.  He said                                                               
this is why  he introduced HB 255 four  other legislators decided                                                               
to add on as co-prime sponsors of the bill.                                                                                     
1:09:20 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GARA described the  drafting process taken and his                                                               
intent to  stay as  true to  the original bill  as possible.   He                                                               
emphasized  that numerous  policy  calls  have been  incorporated                                                               
into the  bill, which the  co-prime sponsors  do not want  to see                                                               
changed.   He  reported a  previous law  already addresses  other                                                               
driver activities, such  that drivers may not watch  or operate a                                                               
video screen while  their vehicle is in motion.   He acknowledged                                                               
several  approaches  could have  been  taken  when drafting  this                                                               
bill.  The  bill could have been modeled after  the language used                                                               
in  current   statutes  for  a   person  who  is   driving  while                                                               
intoxicated (DWI).   Those statutes assume that  a person sitting                                                               
in the driver's  seat with the key in  the ignition [demonstrates                                                               
the intent  to drive].   However, he  admitted he did  not really                                                               
have a problem with drivers  viewing text messages while they are                                                               
sitting in their vehicles in a  parking lot.  He also admitted it                                                               
was impossible  to draft  the bill perfectly.   He  suggested the                                                               
bill could  be drafted in  a way to cover  almost all of  the bad                                                               
circumstances,  or it  could  be  drafted to  cover  all the  bad                                                               
circumstances,  but  in doing  so  might  affect a  few  innocent                                                               
people.   Since 2009, the statutory  language prohibiting texting                                                               
refers to  texting while the driver's  vehicle is in motion.   He                                                               
described a  scenario in which a  driver may decide to  check his                                                               
phone while stopped at the beginning  of a red light.  The driver                                                               
may just have received a text  from his wife regarding child pick                                                               
up arrangements.   The driver  [hears the phone beep],  and since                                                               
the light  just changed  knows he has  another 30  seconds before                                                               
the light  will change to  view the  text message, and  then look                                                               
back at the  light.  He offered his belief  this type of activity                                                               
would not warrant jail time.   He pointed out an exemption in the                                                               
bill  allows   law  enforcement,  public  safety   officers,  and                                                               
firefighters to  use equipment installed  in their  vehicles such                                                               
as video  screens, laptops,  and communication  devices necessary                                                               
for their work.  He said that  the bill sponsors will work in the                                                               
coming  weeks to  determine whether  public safety  agencies will                                                               
need any additional exemptions.                                                                                                 
1:11:05 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA  reported  that   35  states  currently  ban                                                               
texting for  all drivers.  He  said," It's dangerous.   It should                                                               
be addressed."  The Department  of Public Safety (DPS) has always                                                               
had  [public service  announcements] informing  drivers they  are                                                               
not  allowed to  text while  they  drive.   He expressed  concern                                                               
about sending  the public mixed  messages.  He said  the co-prime                                                               
sponsors  are  hoping  this  bill  will pass.    He  related  his                                                               
understanding  that some  contention  may exist  with respect  to                                                               
cell phone use  in bills currently before the  legislature so his                                                               
intention is to  let those bills proceed separately.   He advised                                                               
members  of the  desire  to limit  HB 255  to  texting, which  is                                                               
something his  original co-prime sponsor,  Representative Thomas,                                                               
and he had agreed to early on.                                                                                                  
1:11:51 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said  he is only aware of  one case that                                                               
was  held to  the contrary.   He  asked whether  the sponsor  was                                                               
aware of any other cases.                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  related his understanding that  a magistrate                                                               
in  Kenai  has  held  the  [2008] law  does  not  cover  texting.                                                               
Additionally, a supervising judge  in Fairbanks has indicated she                                                               
would  direct her  magistrates  to also  issue  the same  ruling;                                                               
however, her  directive may  be pending.   He  was unsure  if any                                                               
other cases  have had  favorable rulings, but  he was  aware that                                                               
some  drivers have  signed plea  agreements admitting  to texting                                                               
while driving.  He said  the district attorney's office has taken                                                               
the position  that the activity was  intended to be illegal.   He                                                               
advised members that  the cases are currently on  appeal, and the                                                               
Department  of Law  and Legislative  Legal and  Research Services                                                               
("Legislative Legal") is comfortable with the language.                                                                         
1:12:52 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PETERSEN asked  to place on the  record that under                                                               
this bill a driver  could pull over and park in  a parking lot or                                                               
driveway  and legally  text; however,  texting by  the driver  is                                                               
illegal activity when the vehicle is in motion on the roadway.                                                                  
1:13:18 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT also  wanted to ensure the  record is clear                                                               
on HB  255 since issues  have arisen  with respect to  a previous                                                               
bill  that passed  the legislature  [2008],  but the  legislative                                                               
intent could not be determined.   He asked for clarification that                                                               
HB 255 would not apply to a person unlocking his/her cell phone.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA responded  that this  bill is  very specific                                                               
and does  not regulate talking on  cell phones so if  HB 255 were                                                               
to pass it  would not be illegal for people  to unlock their cell                                                               
phone to make a phone call.   He cautioned members of other bills                                                               
currently before the legislature may  apply to cell phone use and                                                               
could impose restrictions if any of them passes the legislature.                                                                
1:14:34 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT related his  understanding HB 255 would not                                                               
apply to a driver dialing a number on a cell phone.                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE GARA agreed.   He said that a driver  could dial a                                                               
number, press  the answer button,  and do anything else  a person                                                               
normally would do  to talk on his/her cell phone.   He reiterated                                                               
that   various  proposals   are  before   the  legislature,   but                                                               
restricting phone use is not in HB 255.                                                                                         
1:15:01 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT pointed  out that many smart  phones have a                                                               
global positioning system  (GPS), such as MapQuest.   He inquired                                                               
as to whether  people would be prohibited from  using these types                                                               
of systems.                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA agreed  MapQuest  and GPS  mapping would  be                                                               
allowed in HB 255, noting that  the use of these types of systems                                                               
was covered when the original  bill, sponsored by Representatives                                                               
Gruenberg and Gatto passed the legislature [in 2008.]                                                                           
1:15:48 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  mentioned  he  has  questions  on  the                                                               
fiscal note.                                                                                                                    
1:16:13 PM                                                                                                                    
ANNE  CARPENETI,  Assistant   Attorney  General,  Legal  Services                                                               
Section, Criminal  Division, Department of Law  (DOL), introduced                                                               
1:16:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  referred to  the fiscal notes  from the                                                               
Department  of Law  (DOL)  and from  the  Public Defender  Agency                                                               
(PDA).   He noted the  fiscal note from  the PDA was  prepared by                                                               
Quinlan  Steiner,  Public  Defender.   He  referred  to  page  2,                                                               
paragraph  2, of  the fiscal  note  analysis and  read, "In  some                                                               
communities where  judicial officers have concluded  that texting                                                               
and  driving is  not  covered by  the  current statute,  District                                                               
Attorneys  are  no  longer  pursuing   charges  for  texting  and                                                               
driving".   He stated  he was  not aware  of the  DOL's position.                                                               
Instead, he  understood that cases  were being dismissed  so they                                                               
could be  appealed.  He  further understood the DOL  was pursuing                                                               
this  since the  department's position  is that  the magistrate's                                                               
decision in this instance is "wrong  on the law."  He inquired as                                                               
to whether she  was aware of any communities in  which cases were                                                               
not being pursued.                                                                                                              
MS. CARPENETI  answered she  was unaware of  any cases  not being                                                               
pursued.    She  related  her  understanding  the  DOL  has  been                                                               
petitioning decisions  by the magistrates  and while  the appeals                                                               
are not automatic  the DOL has asked that the  matter of legality                                                               
of  the matter  to be  reviewed  by the  Court of  Appeals.   She                                                               
agreed  that the  DOL's position  has been  that this  conduct is                                                               
covered by the statute originally passed in 2008.                                                                               
1:18:36 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  said he  simply has  not been  aware of                                                               
this situation.   He  agreed that any  decision not  to prosecute                                                               
would impact  the fiscal  note.   Although the  finance committee                                                               
will  considered  fiscal impact,  but  he  stated that  he  would                                                               
appreciate confirmation as to  whether the prosecutorial activity                                                               
is  happening.   He  said  he strongly  hoped  that  the DOL  was                                                               
pursuing these cases.                                                                                                           
MS.  CARPENETI  offered  to  research this  and  respond  to  the                                                               
1:20:55 PM                                                                                                                    
QUINLAN  STEINER   Director,  Central  Office,   Public  Defender                                                               
Agency, offered  to respond to  questions about the  fiscal note.                                                               
He related  his understanding  that Representative  Gruenberg had                                                               
questions on  whether district  attorneys were  prosecuting cases                                                               
in  all   communities.    He   reported  that  he   obtained  his                                                               
information for  the fiscal note  analysis from the  DOL's Deputy                                                               
Attorney  General Rick  Svobodny.   He advised  committee members                                                               
that the  cases have not been  pursued in all jurisdictions.   He                                                               
concluded that passing  HB 255 would impact  full prosecutions in                                                               
all communities in the state with a district attorney's office.                                                                 
1:22:07 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  P.  WILSON  asked  for  clarification  on  the  impact  of                                                               
prosecution on the fiscal note.                                                                                                 
MR.  STEINER  responded  that  as long  as  the  cases  involving                                                               
texting while driving  were being fully pursued  and drivers were                                                               
being  arrested it  wouldn't have  a fiscal  impact; however,  it                                                               
just depends on  the assumptions.  He  described the assumptions,                                                               
such  as whether  police  were arresting  for  the texting  while                                                               
driving  activity,  if  the   district  attorneys'  offices  were                                                               
pursuing  all cases,  and also  if the  parties were  being fully                                                               
prosecuted.   He said when  he prepared  the fiscal note  that he                                                               
assumed the cases were not being prosecuted in all communities.                                                                 
CHAIR P.  WILSON said  she would  like a  definite answer  by the                                                               
next committee.                                                                                                                 
MR.  STEINER was  unsure  if he  could  provide that  information                                                               
definitively, but he offered to follow up with the DOL.                                                                         
1:23:21 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  offered  his  belief that  this  is  a                                                               
policy question.   He  related his  understanding that  the cases                                                               
involving  texting  while  driving  were being  pursued  until  a                                                               
decision had been issued by one  judge.  He surmised this has led                                                               
to  a hiatus,  in  which  some communities  may  not be  pursuing                                                               
texting while  driving cases.   He  acknowledged that  the fiscal                                                               
note is  a matter for  the finance committee to  review; however,                                                               
he wondered whether this situation  was temporary, and if so, and                                                               
how that may affect the fiscal impact.                                                                                          
1:24:43 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. STEINER offered  to clarify with the Department of  Law to be                                                               
certain  of  the  historical  prosecution of  these  cases.    He                                                               
acknowledged the ambiguity this has  created and agreed to follow                                                               
up on it.                                                                                                                       
1:25:16 PM                                                                                                                    
KATE SAKEGAK, a Denali Montessori  student, provided testimony on                                                               
HB 255.   She  stated that driver  distraction is  biggest reason                                                               
for  vehicle  accidents.    She  explained  that  drivers  become                                                               
distracted by their  phone screen at the same time  as the crash.                                                               
She  identified  the reason  that  texting  while driving  causes                                                               
distraction is that drivers can't focus  on a small screen and at                                                               
traffic while their vehicle is moving.   She compared this to her                                                               
own experience.   She stated that  her mother will not  allow her                                                               
to watch  television while  she is doing  her homework  since the                                                               
television creates a distraction.    Finally, she pointed out the                                                               
safety of all is worth a small limit on personal freedom.                                                                       
CHAIR P. WILSON thanked Ms. Sakegak for her testimony.                                                                          
1:27:22 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT  moved to  report HB  255 out  of committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  fiscal                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG objected for  purpose of discussion.  He                                                               
suggested  the  committee  make   a  recommendation  rather  than                                                               
individual recommendations.                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE   PRUITT  restated   his  motion,   including  the                                                               
recommendation of "do pass," as follows:                                                                                        
Representative Pruitt  moved to  report HB  255 out  of committee                                                               
with the recommendation of "do  pass" and the accompanying fiscal                                                               
notes.   There being  no further objection,  HB 255  was reported                                                               
from the House Transportation Standing Committee.                                                                               

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
2 HB235Sponsor Statement.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 235
3 HB235 version A.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 235
4 HB235 Sectional 1 17 12.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 235
5 HB235 AADA Letter of Support.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 235
HB 255 Sponsor Statement.pdf HJUD 2/8/2012 1:00:00 PM
HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255
HB 255 version I.pdf HJUD 2/8/2012 1:00:00 PM
HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255
NCSL Legisbrief Addressing Distracted Driving.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255
NCSL Texting Law by State.pdf HJUD 2/8/2012 1:00:00 PM
HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255
HB235-DOA-DMV-1-23-12.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 235
HB235-LAW-CIV-01-20-12.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 235
HB255-DOA-OPA-1-20-12.pdf HJUD 2/8/2012 1:00:00 PM
HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255
HB255-DOA-PDA-1-23-12 (2).pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255
HB255-DOC-OC-01-20-12.pdf HTRA 1/26/2012 1:00:00 PM
HB 255