Texas texting and driving ban hangs on one Senator

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

AUSTIN (KXAN) –  A bill changing the laws for every driver in the state of Texas rests on one person at the Capitol. A statewide ban on texting and driving needs one more Senator to agree to vote on the issue.

“Yeah, it all comes down to the end, the last couple weeks,” said longtime Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who passed the idea out of the House. He needs 19 Senators to bring the idea up for a vote in the Senate. He currently has 18. “We got some that are kind of iffy. And so we’ve been giving them data that shows where it’s worked and in other states where the death toll has come down from texting while driving.”

Throughout the legislative session, victims of crashes caused by texting and driving have lobbied lawmakers door to door, office to office. One by one, major companies and lobbyists have gotten behind it.

“It’s a little stressful but I think we’re going to get there,” said Leslie Ward from AT&T, one of the most powerful lobbies in Texas. They have supported a texting and driving ban for three sessions in a row and hope all the victim testimony and statistics will get this passed on the third attempt.

“I think you never really know what tips a vote,” said Ward. “I think it’s all of those things combined.”

“We cannot legislate stupidity. Everyone knows it’s unsafe to do it,” said Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, who, along with about a dozen other Senators, is against the ban. For every vote, Hall has a checklist: Is it constitutional? Is it a key function of government? Does it expand the size and scope of government? Does it expand liberty? He does not believe a ban on texting and driving fits into that checklist.

The bill allows police to pull over motorists they suspect are using a wireless device to read, write or send a text message while driving, unless the vehicle is stopped. Offenders would be fined up to $99 for a first offense and a maximum $200 for subsequent ones.

The ban on texting and driving has enough votes to pass (16), but the bill needs 19 out of 31 Senators to bring it up for debate and a vote.

Senate bills like the texting ban have a better chance of coming up for a vote this year. Early in the session Senators voted to do away with the “two-thirds” rule which required 21 of 31 Senators to agree to bring any bill up for a vote. With 20 Republicans, they would have needed to recruit at least one Democrat for each bill. Instead, they implemented the “three-fifths” rule which means only 19 Senators need to decide to agree.

The bill is supported by a partisan coalition of Representatives and Senators. The measure passed 102 to 40 in the Texas House, after hours of sometimes heated debate.

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