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6:18 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

House rejects ban of texting while driving

PHOENIX - The Arizona House on Monday reversed itself and narrowly rejected a ban on texting while driving after opponents realized that the prohibition was included in a transportation bill that had just been approved.

Several proposals to ban texting while driving have been introduced in the Arizona Legislature this session, as in past ones, but they were bottled up in committees.

However, a supporter succeeded Friday in adding the texting ban to a bill on accident reports.

The bill was initially approved 45-15, but it was defeated on a vote of 31-28 about a half-hour later as 19 lawmakers changed their votes. Nearly all of those went from "yes" to "no."

During debate on the texting provision, supporters argued that a ban is an overdue step to protect safety of the public.

"This is a not a nanny law. This is something that simply says you can't do two things at one time," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Steve Urie of Gilbert.

Critics said a ban amounts to over-regulation.

"Let's not go down this path of these minor little things that actually take away our constitutional rights," said Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Several legislators who supported the bill acknowledged that a ban might not result in many tickets being issued.

But it would send a message that texting is dangerous because it takes drivers' eyes off the road, said Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills. "I can eat a hamburger and drink a cup of coffee and still watch the road."

Republican Rep. Nancy McLain, a Bullhead City Republican who voted against the bill both times, said her colleagues would have known what was in the bill if they'd attended Friday's House floor session and paid attention.

Many lawmakers were absent Friday, a day of the week when the Legislature is not usually in session.

Under the bill, violation of the ban would be a civil violation punishable by a penalty of $50 if the motorist is not involved in an accident and $200 if the person is involved in an accident.

The ban would have applied to a motorist whose vehicle was moving in a lane of traffic. That meant it would not have applied to a vehicle off the road or stopped in traffic at an intersection.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 35 states had laws banning texting while driving as of December.