- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Lawmakers in the Iowa Senate overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to crack down on texting while driving, but some legislators questioned whether there’s a need for the law and whether it did enough to address the issue of distracted driving.

Although the bill passed easily, 41-7, and now goes to the House, some challenged it sharply.

Current law prohibits texting while driving, but police can only enforce that law when pulling a driver over for a different violation. The bill would make the offense a moving violation, meaning officers could stop a person suspected of texting while driving, regardless of whether there is another infraction.

The offense carries a $30 fine.

Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, who sponsored the bill, acknowledged it wouldn’t stop distracted driving, but he said it would help.

“It’s not going to fix all of our problems,” Bowman said. “But I will promise you this, if this bill is passed, it will send a stronger statement to Iowans.”

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, proposed an amendment to suggest that Iowans should simply use “common sense” when driving. Given the number of ways that a person can be distracted while driving, from eating while driving to fidgeting with a mapping device, Zaun said such a limited proposal can only do so much.

“Even though the intention of this bill is good, because I think we all recognize that texting while driving is bad, but how many steps, how much do we have to add to the codebook of Iowa to protect the people of Iowa from their stupidity?” he asked. “It seems like we’re always passing new laws. It’s going to come down to where we have to bubble-wrap everybody to protect them.”

Bowman responded that the bill is the first step toward ensuring safety on Iowa roads.

“We could narrow the codebook to one page and say, ‘All Iowans use common sense on everything.’ You probably wouldn’t need much government,” he said. “But that’s not the case. We need laws, because there’s always going to be that small percentage of people that don’t use common sense.”

Senate President Pam Jochum ruled Zaun’s proposed amendment wasn’t germane and therefore was rejected.

Lawmakers also expressed concern that texting while stopped at a stop sign or red light would be considered a violation, and others questioned whether the $30 fine is expensive enough, given the dangers associated with texting while driving.

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