With the death of a bill that would have created a statewide texting-while-driving ban, the measure’s author said Thursday that legislators “have not done our job as lawmakers to protect the life and safety of all Texans.”
House Bill 80, by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, would have made it a misdemeanor statewide to use a portable wireless device for reading, writing or sending a text while driving. It had passed the House easily in late March, but lacked the votes needed to bring it to the Senate floor ahead of a midnight deadline Wednesday.
"It is always disappointing when good legislation does not get enacted,” the former speaker of the House said in a statement, “but it is especially tough to tell the families that have lost loved ones because of a texting-while-driving crash."
While it might be possible to attach a texting-while-driving measure to another piece of legislation, proponents didn’t seem optimistic about that happening this legislative session.
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In 2011, Craddick had authored a texting-while-driving proposal that was passed by both chambers. But Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the measure, saying it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.” Last session, a similar bill authored by Craddick passed the House but died in the Senate.
Cellphone use while driving is already illegal in Texas for drivers younger than 18 and for all drivers in school zones.
HB 80 passed the House in March with a 104-39 vote. For the past few weeks, its Senate sponsor, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, had worked to get the 19 votes needed to bring it to the floor for debate.
Proponents lamented the bill’s death on Thursday.
“My heart aches for the state of Texas,” Jennifer Smith said. She lost her mother in a 2008 car crash in Oklahoma when a distracted driver using his cellphone T-boned her vehicle. She advocates for stopdistractions.org, a grassroots organization that raises awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
"Unless a miracle happens, it's dead and all the lives and time and energy have been wasted once again and so many more will die until the next session,” she said.
In the meantime, drivers in Texas will be subject to a patchwork of texting-and-driving ordinances on the books in about three dozen cities.