- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota won’t join 41 other states in banning texting while driving, a special legislative committee decided Tuesday after failing to negotiate a compromise between bans passed by the House and Senate.

The negotiating committee of three senators and three representatives was unable to agree on what fine should be imposed, whether law officers could issue tickets without first stopping drivers for other traffic offenses, and whether cities should be allowed to pass their own bans. The panel voted unanimously to recommend that the Legislature give up on passing a texting ban this year.

“It’s done,” said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, a longtime promoter of a texting ban and sponsor of the Senate version.

But House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, sponsor of the House measure, said that chamber will not pass a bill that would let officers issue tickets for texting behind the wheel as a primary offense. Representatives will only support a measure that would allow officers to write texting tickets after first stopping drivers for another traffic offense, he said.

“My goal is the same as yours. I want to reduce traffic accidents,” Gosch told Vehle.

The House had passed a version that would make texting while driving a petty offense carrying a $25 penalty. The Senate on Monday changed the House bill to make a violation a Class 2 misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Gosch also has said the bill should prohibit local governments from having their own bans. He said such bans are already illegal because a 1929 law bars local governments from having traffic regulations that conflict with state law.

Senators said they would rather let cities keep writing their own bans because they aren’t sure state law forbids such local ordinances.

After the Legislature in recent years refused to ban texting while driving, eight cities and counties passed their own bans.

Assistant House Majority Leader Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg, proposed a compromise that would have imposed a $100 penalty while barring officers from writing tickets unless they had first stopped drivers for other traffic offenses. His proposed compromise failed when all three senators opposed it.

Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, said a stiffer penalty is needed to get people’s attention and stop them from texting while driving.

“The way you change a culture is with something with some teeth in it,” Omdahl said.

Vehle said more than a third of South Dakota’s population lives in cities with ordinances that allow officers to issue texting tickets without first stopping motorists for other offenses.

“There haven’t been a whole lot of tickets written, so I don’t see what the stymie is, what the problem is,” Vehle said.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said he decided it would be best to let the bill die and allow cities to pass stronger texting bans. He said more cities will pass their own bans now that the Legislature has once again failed to pass a statewide ban.

“It’s my conclusion that no bill is better than a bad bill,” Tieszen said.

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