WEEK IN REVIEW
BILLS WOULD MAKE TEXTING, CALLING WHILE DRIVING ILLEGAL
(AUSTIN) — Texas drivers would have to stay off the phone while they are on the road, under two bills considered Wednesday by the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. A 2006 University of Utah study demonstrated that a driver distracted by talking on a cell phone is just as dangerous as a drunk driver. Texas already bans talking or texting on a cell phone in a school zone, but the bills considered Wednesday would make those practices illegal on all roads. "Several municipalities such as San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas, and Austin have already taken action against this reckless behavior by enacting a city-wide ban. Now it's the Legislature's turn to take a stand," said San Antonio Senator Carlos Uresti.
His bill, SB 119, would allow policemen and state troopers to issue tickets to drivers who text on a cell phone while driving down the road. Drivers would have to pull over to the side of the road or use a hands-free device when they send a text. The second bill, SB 138 by Senator Jeff Wentworth, also of San Antonio, would ban all cell phone use while driving. His bill also includes an exemption for hands-free devices, but drivers who talk and drive otherwise would face fines between $100 and $200. Both bills remain pending before the committee.
Last Friday was the 60th day of the 82nd Legislative session, marking the end of the constitutional ban on considering general legislation by both chambers. The constitution allows only bills designated emergency issues by the governor to be considered before the 60th day. With this milestone passed, the Senate Monday began voting on non-emergency bills.
One of these was a bill intended to improve the reliability and accuracy of eye witness testimony in criminal investigations. According to Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, of the 44 exonerations in Texas based on DNA evidence, 38 of the cases involved eyewitness testimony to secure a conviction. Ellis' bill, SB 121, seeks to reduce the number of false convictions based on incorrect eyewitness testimony by establishing uniform standards for line-up identification.
Under this bill, the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute at Sam Houston State University would establish a model policy that individual law enforcement agencies could follow, or use to develop their own policy. Policies must use nationally recognized best practices in determining who is presented in a line-up along with a suspect. It would have to establish how a line-up is administered, what questions are asked of the eyewitness, and would have to ensure that the administrator is unaware of the identity of the suspect if possible.
Ellis hopes his bill will reduce the number of false convictions in Texas. "Eyewitness reform is a very simple, straightforward change to help create a smarter, more just system," Ellis said. "It will put in place best practices that will help reduce the number of incorrect identifications that are one of the chief causes of wrongful convictions in Texas." His bill now heads to the House for consideration.
Other bills approved by the Senate this week include:
- SB 257, by Carona, would establish a "Choose Life" license plate, proceeds from which would go to support adoption services in Texas
- SB 141, by Eltife, would create a uniform structure for the regulation of debt settlement providers
- SB 321, by Hegar, would allow licensed gun owners to keep firearms and ammunition locked and secured in their vehicles in the parking lot at their places of employment
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 21 at 1:30 p.m.