TEXTING WHILE DRIVING BAN BEFORE SENATE COMMITTEE
|Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels sponsored the high-quality pre-kindergarten education bill in the Senate.|
(AUSTIN) — The Senate State Affairs Committee considered a bill Thursday that would outlaw texting while driving. The state already has prohibitions for texting while in a school zone and for minors, and more than 40 cities in Texas have municipal ordinances restricting texting and driving. If passed into law, HB 80 would make Texas the 47th state to ban the practice, and Senate bill sponsor Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo thinks it's past time that happened. "Texting while driving is a hazardous behavior that endangers not only the bad actor but also others and it, too, should be prohibited state wide, " she said. "It would catalyze a paradigm shift for future generations of Texans to recognize automatically the dangers of such a practice and would reduce motor vehicle accidents and driving fatalities."
Zaffirini listed a litany of harms associated with texting and driving. She cited studies showing that people are twice as likely to crash their cars when they text and that texting is a uniquely distracting activity when compared to other common driving distractions like eating or talking to a passenger. On average, a driver has his or her eyes off the road for 23 seconds while texting, and in 2013 there were more teenage driving-related deaths attributable to texting than to drunk driving. She also argued that texting bans improved road safety in other states, reducing the number of traffic fatalities by an average of 19 per year and lowering automobile accident-related hospitalizations by seven percent.
Zaffirini's bill would make it illegal for a driver to use a cell phone to send, receive or compose text messages while the vehicle is in motion. Violators could face up to a $99 fine for the first offense and up to $200 for every offense thereafter.
This is the fourth session in a row that Zaffirini has carried texting ban legislation. In 2011, a similar bill passed both chambers of the Legislature, but was vetoed by then-Governor Rick Perry. The bill considered in committee Thursday does contain some small changes to the version passed out of the House. Should the Senate approve the bill, the House could concur in the Senate differences or request the appointment of a conference committee to resolve the differences.
On the Senate Floor Thursday, the Senate approved a bill intended to improve the quality of pre-kindergarten education programs at public schools. HB 4, sponsored by Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, would pair new accountability standards with new funds for schools that opt-in to the program. "I think this bill is a fiscally, morally and academically responsible thing to do," said Campbell. The bill caps funding for pre-k for the next two years at $130 million and is directed toward certain at-risk students. Programs would have to align with existing educational accountability standards, and pre-k teachers would have to be certified in early education along with holding a bachelor's degree. The bill would require districts that offer pre-k to develop a program to increase parental engagement and would also require the education commissioner to evaluate the effectiveness of pre-k classes in Texas and report that to the Legislature every two years.
The Senate will reconvene to consider a local and uncontested calendar Friday, May 8 at 9 a.m.