- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - An effort to ban texting while driving in South Dakota could be in danger after the state passed a measure Monday that went further than the House may be willing to accept.

Senators voted 22-13 to pass the ban, which has already been passed by the House. But the Senate changed the measure to impose a higher fine and give law officers more authority to stop drivers just for texting while driving. The version passed by the House would prevent law officers from issuing tickets for texting behind the wheel unless they had pulled a driver over for another traffic violation.

Sen. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, said the Senate should have approved the House version to make sure the measure passes this year. The bill may die because the House likely will refuse to accept the changes made the Senate, he said.

“Our opportunity is going to be lost for another entire year,” Kirkeby said.

But Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, a long-time promoter of a texting ban, proposed the changes after saying the House version would not do enough to discourage texting behind the wheel. “It’s so weak,” he said of the House-passed measure.

House Speaker Brian Gosch, sponsor of the House version, said he will have to consider the changes the Senate made to his bill. However, he said he thought Vehle should have talked with him before changing his bill, which he said amounted to a hijacking.

The House-passed version would make texting while driving a petty offense carrying a $25 penalty. The version approved by the Senate would make illegal texting a Class 2 misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Both versions would prohibit driving while using a hand-held device to write, send or read text-based messages. However, drivers could still use cellphones to talk and could text using voice-operated or hands-free technology.

In addition, both versions would prohibit local governments from having their own bans. After the Legislature in recent years refused to ban texting while driving, eight cities and counties passed their own bans.

Gosch has said such local bans are illegal because a 1929 law already bars local governments from having traffic regulations that conflict with state law.

Vehle said the Legislature needs to ban texting while driving to reduce accidents and save lives.

“It’s dangerous. It’s deadly, and it deserves to be illegal,” Vehle said.

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