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Questions linger over how state texting/driving bill could affect Austin's ordinance

After two months of staying stagnant, the statewide texting and driving ban bill is back on the agenda for Texas lawmakers, but it’s also brought up more questions on if it’ll supersede Austin’s stricter hands-free ordinance. (CBS Austin)

After two months of staying stagnant, the statewide texting and driving ban bill is back on the agenda for Texas lawmakers, but it’s also brought up more questions on if it’ll supersede Austin’s stricter hands-free ordinance.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs brought up HB 62 Monday morning. This is nearly two months after the House passed the bill in March.

Committee Chair Joan Huffman spoke highly for the bill, working to convince her committee colleagues. However, the committee did not vote on the bill.

“I think they left it pending because the Republican caucus is meeting this evening,” bill author Rep. Tom Craddick said.

Still, he believes they have the votes to pass the bill in committee and the Senate.

He also says the bill would not affect Austin’s hands-free ordinance.

“We’re not taking that right away from them,” Craddick said. “Austin would pre-empt, saying you can’t use it in your hand.”

However, the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Judith Zaffirini told committee member Sen. Bryan Hughes it may pre-empt parts of Austin’s ordinance.

“So then if this were to pass could someone use the GPS on their phone in their hand in the city of Austin?” Hughes asked.

“Yes,” Zaffirini replied.

This is after a new amendment that said the bill only deals with texting and driving, not using a phone for GPS or music. Hughes wanted to clarify if that meant drivers could use their phones for GPS and music in Austin. Currently no driver in motion in Austin could pick up any hand-held device.

“If this were to become law, no city in Texas could prevent you or fine you for using your device in your hand for GPS is that correct?” Hughes asked.

“For GPS or other navigation systems or your music app, just like you listen to your radio,” Zaffirini replied.

Mike Myers lost his 18 year old daughter in a distracted driving crash. He likes ordinances like Austin’s than ban all use of a cell phone.

It is a hard choice, but he says if it means passing the bill he’d be okay with it pre-empting Austin’s ordinance.

“If we can get a bill passed that says no texting and there’s some variations to it, some pre-emption. To get it through maybe that’s a step forward,” Myers said.

That’s because each time he testifies for the bill, he sees new families who have lost someone to texting and driving.

“How many families, how many families have to go through this. That’s the pain and that’s the anger that we have,” Myers said.

Craddick hopes to get the bill passed in a formal committee vote on the Senate floor Tuesday. Then the full Senate may not be able to vote on it until next week.

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