A bill that would ban texting while driving is on the agenda again this week at the statehouse, but leaders admit reconciling House and Senate versions of the ban will be a challenge.
The House-passed bill would forbid sending texts while at the wheel. The Senate went a step further, voting to make it illegal to read texts or e-mail while in control of a vehicle. House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines voted against the bill. McCarthy says it raises some “deep” civil liberties concerns.
“Right now in order for a government law enforcement officer to stop you in your vehicle, you have to have probable cause to do so and that’s right now a crime whether you’re speeding or whether you have an expired tag or a broken tail light — you have to have a crime, “McCarthy says. “This would be the first time you put something in Iowa law — the so-called texting issue — where you probably vastly expand that ability for law enforcement to stop someone without direct evidence of a crime being committed.”
The bill passed the House on a 64 to 31 vote. Not only did McCarthy — the Democratic leader — vote against it, but House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha did, too.
“I would have preferred we talk about distracted driving,” Paulsen says. “…There’s a host of things that you see people doing..,.and I can tell you some of those bother me more than the thought that someone’s texting.”
While the two partisan floor leaders are opposed to the bill, neither plans to stand in the way of debating a possible compromise on the issue. McCarthy, the Democratic leader, says a majority of legislators support a ban on texting while driving.
“I still think it’s likely that we’ll have a bill passed because we have a lot of strong safety advocates…who are concerned that these texting issues are dramatically greater problems than eating or something of that nature,” McCarthy says. “…The traffic safety associations are asking us to address it.”
One possible compromise under consideration might be to ban some teenagers from using cell phones altogether when they’re driving. Such a ban would be in place for teens who’re driving under an “intermediate” license.
The two legislative leaders made their comments during a joint appearance on the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press.”