- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas House on Wednesday approved a statewide ban on texting while driving, advancing legislation either fizzled out or was vetoed in previous years.

Forty-six states have laws against texting while driving that typically also ban sending or reading email, using apps or engaging in other use of the internet. Dozens of Texas cities also prohibit texting while driving.

The proposal, carried for a fourth consecutive session by former Republican House speaker Tom Craddick, easily advanced on a 113 to 32 vote. It would prohibit the use of hand-held phones to “read write or send an electronic message” while driving. It would also assess a $99 fine on first-time offenders and a $200 fine on repeat offenses.

Similar proposals passed the House in 2013 and 2015 but died in the Texas Senate. The closest that a statewide texting-while-driving ban came to becoming law was in 2011, when a bill cleared the Legislature but was vetoed by former Gov. Rick Perry, who called it a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Critics of the measure say the bill not only infringes on personal liberties but that it would be difficult for police to enforce and could lead to unwarranted traffics stops.

Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton, who voted against the bill, said it “gives police unfettered authority to stop people.”

“The very first thing that happens when the government wants to take away one of your freedoms is they scare you,” Dutton said. “That’s what this bill is trying to do, scare you.”

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ANTI-ABORTON BILLS MOVING THROUGH SENATE

New anti-abortion efforts in Texas that would ban a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure and prohibit fetal tissue donation for research are close to clearing the Senate.

The measures given preliminary approval Wednesday are two of the most prominent anti-abortion bills in Texas this year. Republicans are pushing efforts they say protect fetuses, which comes after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a major Texas anti-abortion law last summer that was sold as protecting women’s health.

One bill bans a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which abortion-rights supporters contend is the safest and most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions.

Similar bans in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma have been put on hold due to legal challenges.

Opponents say the measures prevent doctors from using their best medical judgment.

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CHANGES TO ‘SANCTUARY CITIES’ BILL

Critics of a Texas bill that would crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities” say Republican changes to soften the measure don’t go nearly far enough.

Hundreds of people Wednesday again packed the Texas Capitol to speak against the measure that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a priority. Some spoke only Spanish and urged lawmakers through translators to reconsider.

The Senate last month passed a version of the bill that aims to punish cities and counties that don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents. House Republicans are making changes that include allowing police officers to only inquire about immigration status if someone is arrested, rather than simply being detained.

Local governments are also no longer threatened with losing all state grant funding.

Democrats say the bill still invites intimidation and discrimination.

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‘BATHROOM BILL’ CLEARS SENATE

The Texas Senate has passed a North Carolina-style “bathroom bill” that targets transgender people, but the proposal still faces big obstacles from becoming law.

The 21-10 final vote on Wednesday came over opposition from big business, the National Football League and hundreds of people who packed the Texas Capitol last week during 13 hours of public testimony.

The measure would require people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate.

The hot-button issue was a Senate priority. But Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has publicly and repeatedly denounced the proposal as bad for business. He has stopped short of declaring the bill dead on arrival but his opposition is significant.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott also hasn’t taken a clear public stance on the bill.

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ON DECK

The House is back at 10 a.m. The Senate won’t take up any new bills until Monday.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Kids are afraid to walk to school. I hope you consider the young people and how you affect their dreams,” Austin resident Michael Garcia, testifying against the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill.

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