- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers are waging a battle over two proposals to ban texting while driving, with the issue of local control emerging as a deciding factor.

The House Transportation Committee voted 8-4 to defeat the Senate version of the ban, which would have made texting while driving a petty offence with a $100 fine.

Opponents said it would allow cities to have their own, stricter policies, causing inconsistencies across the state.

Supporters of the measure said lawmakers should have passed both bills to ensure that some form succeeds.

The House version includes a lesser fine for the offence - $25 - and prohibits cities from making tougher regulations on texting and driving.

Some lawmakers argued that they shouldn’t interfere with local policies. A few cities have more stringent bans in place already. In the city of Mitchell, texting while driving is a primary offence, so lawmakers can pull some people over for that alone.

“This bill allows at least some semblance of local control,” said Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, supported the failed Senate-backed bill. “I think the $100 penalty is far more appropriate.”

That bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Mike Vehle, said he was disappointed to see the conversation turn into an issue of local control. His bill does not address local policies.

“Let’s just focus on texting while driving,” the Mitchell Republican said. “Let’s not go down the bunny trail. Let’s not go off into the weeds.”

On Wednesday the House’s texting ban barely made it out of committee. It will go next to the Senate floor.

After the meeting, Vehle said he has not decided whether he will offer an amendment to the remaining bill.