Kansas Senate sends texting ban to House

TOPEKA — The Senate voted 34-6 to send a bill banning texting while driving to the House.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, pitched Senate Bill 351 as a public safety issue.

Drivers ticketed for sending a text message or e-mail via a wireless device would face a $100 fine for a preliminary offense. A person who killed another person while texting and driving could be prosecuted under existing involuntary manslaughter charges.

Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, worried about how law enforcement officers would be able to determine if someone was texting or simply turning a phone on or off.

Owens argued that there has to be some level of discretion in the law: If an officer pulls someone over for what appears to be texting and driving, a decision can be made at that point.

The debate got heated after Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, Kan., said the proposal was "popular, but it's dumb."

"The bill is so narrowly written that it is not going to solve the problem, which is inattentive driving," he said.

Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, who drafted the proposal, took offense at Steineger's assessment. "I don't give a rat's rear about being popular. It was drafted to save lives," he said.

Emler said he had personally seen near accidents from people who were texting while driving. The bill is about preventing accidents, he said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment in committee testimony estimated a ban on texting while driving would save between seven and 29 lives annually in Kansas.

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Teen drivers in Kansas are already barred from using cell phones while driving under the state's graduated driver's license law.

Other lawmakers also suggested the proposed law would be difficult to enforce. But Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said there is a value in just having the law.

"This bill sends a message to all of us, not just our kids, that it is a really bad idea to text," she said.