- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers decided Wednesday to make another attempt to pass a measure that would ban texting while driving in the final two days of this year’s legislative session.

The bill was thought to be dead late Tuesday when a negotiating committee of House and Senate members was unable to reach a compromise between versions of the measure passed by each chamber.

But the House and Senate on Wednesday appointed a new negotiating committee with three members from each chamber. The panel will meet Thursday, the day before the session’s main run ends.

“I think we’re going to come together on this,” said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, chair of the negotiating committee.

The House and Senate have been unable to agree on what fine should be imposed, whether law officers could issue tickets without first stopping drivers for other offenses, and whether cities should be allowed to pass their own bans.

Hoffman said the proposed compromise would still make texting behind the wheel a secondary offense, meaning officers could only issue tickets after stopping drivers for other traffic violations. A first violation in a year would be a petty offense with a penalty of $100, a second offense would be a Class 2 misdemeanor with a $200 fine, and a third offense would be a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500, he said. A third offense also would mean a driver could lose the right to drive for 30 days, except for getting to work.

Hoffman said lawmakers on Thursday would reveal a provision dealing with what authority cities and counties would have to regulate texting while driving. Eight local governments passed their own bans after the Legislature repeatedly failed to pass a texting ban in recent years.

This year’s battle has focused on deep disagreements between House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, and Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, the sponsors of competing bills. They were unable to compromise in Tuesday’s negotiating session, and neither is on the new negotiating committee.

The House version would have made texting while driving a petty offense carrying a $25 penalty. Senators have argued the fine should be higher and a violation should be a primary offense, meaning law officers could stop drivers and issue them tickets solely for texting behind the wheel.

Gosch has contended that the bill should prohibit local governments from having bans that differ from state law. He said a 1929 law already forbids local governments from having traffic regulations that conflict with state laws on the rules of the road.

However, city officials have said they believe state law allows them to continue regulating texting while driving.

Gosch said new negotiators might be able to find compromise. He said he would prefer the House version of the bill, but could accept a penalty of $100.

Vehle, who has worked for several years to pass a texting ban, told the Senate the issue is so important that lawmakers should make another attempt to pass it.

Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said even though South Dakota’s larger cities already have texting bans, more than half the state’s traffic fatalities occur on rural roads. A statewide ban on texting while driving could reduce rural accidents, he said.

“I think we would be foolish not to give ourselves the opportunity to continue the conversation,” Rhoden said.

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