Legislature(2015 - 2016)BUTROVICH 205
02/16/2016 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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SB 123-USE OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES WHILE DRIVING 9:09:03 AM CHAIR STOLTZE announced the consideration of SB 123. He said public testimony was taken and is still open. 9:09:53 AM SENATOR KEVIN MEYER, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of SB 123, reviewed the bill's intent. He related that the bill mirrors the ordinance Anchorage passed and would change the penalty for driving while texting from a class-A misdemeanor to a violation of up to $500. He said the intent is to have better enforcement of the offense. He noted that only 20 cases had been enforced and of those, only 4 went to court. He stated that SB 123 is not intended to be a revenue bill. He asserted that the bill should save the state money by not having to involve the court system. He called it a safety bill. CHAIR STOLTZE clarified that the bill makes texting while driving a bail-schedule offense and the person cited can pay a fine or ask for a trial. The court system is expected to add this to their list of bail-schedule offenses. SENATOR MEYER agreed. CHAIR STOLTZE asked if there was any public testimony. He requested Mr. Hanson report on the enforcement of the current texting-while-driving law. 9:13:23 AM DAVID HANSON, Lieutenant, Alaska State Troopers, Anchorage, Alaska, answered questions regarding SB 123. He explained that in the position of Deputy Commander of the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol he oversees the patrol troopers. He noted that most of his comments would mirror what Senator Meyer said. In reviewing case records from 2012 to 2015, Alaska Department of Public Safety initiated a total of 69 cases involving drivers that were texting or operating a screen device while driving; of these, 172 were charged with distracted driving and the others were charged with distracted driving due to screen devices. Part of the reason troopers are less likely to charge an individual with the class-A misdemeanor is because of the burden of proof requirement. 9:15:31 AM LIEUTENANT HANSON explained that in a misdemeanor trial, the trooper would need to provide evidence that the person was distracted; this is often difficult to do and sometimes unsafe. The individual would have to consent to examination of the device in order to capture the evidence needed for a successful prosecution. Reducing the crime to a violation would result in allowing the trooper to observe the offense and issue a ticket; it would encourage troopers to contact more drivers, even if just to educate them on the dangers of texting while driving. A fine amount would need to be established for each offense. CHAIR STOLTZE noted that it would be up to the court to do so. SENATOR MEYER agreed. He added that the 20 cases he was referring to were just in Anchorage. 9:17:38 AM CHAIR STOLTZE closed public testimony. He said the bill is a policy call and he said he was glad it was a stand-alone bill in order to give it the attention it needs. SENATOR MEYER related that the rest of the bill, which was passed in 2011, does not change. If a person is texting and injures someone it is a class-C felony; if someone is seriously injured it is a class-B felony; and if someone is killed it is a class-A felony. SENATOR MCGUIRE noted the next committee assignment is the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said she supports the bill. She wished for clarification on the search and seizure protections in the next committee. 9:19:30 AM At ease 9:20:19 AM SENATOR COGHILL moved to report SB 123 from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the motion carried.