A legislative committee killed a bill that would have banned all texting while driving in South Dakota.
The 8-5 vote against the ban left Janean Christensen of Brandon shaking her head. Just a half-hour before, she had told House Judiciary Committee members the story of how she was left a widow in 2010.
A motorist who was texting killed her husband, Jon, as he was riding his motorcycle on S.D. 38, a few miles outside Mitchell. The other driver ran over her husband from behind as they approached a construction zone.
She said Jon was wearing a helmet but his bodily injuries were too severe to survive.
The couple had just celebrated the 13th birthday of their son. She and their son, in a separate vehicle, came upon the accident scene about 15 minutes after the crash. The next day would have been the couple’s 19th anniversary.
No one testified against the texting ban Wednesday. “The only opponents that I see are probably those on the committee,” said Rep. Marc Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said he didn’t know whether he would try to resurrect it through a procedural maneuver. The Senate previously passed the bill 24-9 on Feb. 19.
As Christensen pulled on her winter coat after the House committee voted, people around her in the hearing room offered words meant to comfort her.
“Just keep comin’ back,” she said.
More than three dozen states have some type of texting ban or handheld ban. But House committee members who argued against South Dakota adding a ban said the only accident statistics presented at the hearing from other states showed there was either no effect from a ban on cellphone use or a slight increase in accidents from a texting ban.
Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, asked what will come next. He said wiping up “a big blob” of sauce from a sandwich while driving could be just as distracting or worse.
“Apparently there isn’t a whole lot of reliable information on this,” he said.
Vehle defended the texting ban as “lowest hanging fruit” in a campaign for less distracted driving. That comment was seized by Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, who said the ban was part of “an incremental approach” that would be followed by further prohibited activities.
“I just think it’s missing the mark,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t always have to be by passing a law.”
Vehle was guarded with his words in the hours after the defeat. The full House of Representatives also failed to get a majority to pass a ban against use of handheld devices of any kind by drivers younger than age 18.
That bill, Senate Bill 106, came from the teen driving task force created by the Legislature last year. The teen ban received 33 yes and 31 no votes from House members Wednesday. A majority of 36 was needed.
Vehle said the bill could be reconsidered when some or all of the six House members who didn’t participate in the vote are present again. The Senate previously passed it 26-9.
Whether Vehle will actually try to pry his bill, Senate Bill 142, out of the House committee wasn’t clear. He seemed torn between putting people through another tough ordeal and giving up this year, possibly disappointing those who believe in the need for the ban.
All he would say throughout the afternoon and evening was the same line: “Nothing’s dead until its sine die (adjournment).”
Including today, there are seven working days left in the 2013 legislative session.
Here’s how the House panel split Wednesday on SB 142, a bill that would have generally prohibited motorists from texting while driving. The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-5 to kill it.