Iowa lawmakers worked March 17 to hammer out differences in two bills restricting drivers from sending or reading text messages.
The legislation also would ban all cell phone use by drivers under 18 years old. The House and Senate previously passed different versions of the legislation, and a conference committee is trying to work out a final version.
“We have a rare opportunity to keep the genie in the bottle,” said state Rep. Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, a driver’s education teacher before he retired. “We have a growing problem with texting.”
The Senate’s version would ban reading, writing or sending text messages. The House proposal would ban all cell phone use by drivers who are 16 and 17.
Those who opposed the measure during House and Senate negotiations have said banning cell phone use amounts to unnecessary government intrusion.
The bill will likely carry exceptions, including for truck drivers, bus drivers and drivers of emergency vehicles.
“We can compromise and save lives,” said state Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls.
Trucking industry lobbyist Scott Weiser said most truckers don’t use cell phones but have on-board computers for directions and delivery instructions, as do most bus drivers.
Sen. Tom Reilly, D-Oskaloosa, said lawmakers are willing to compromise to ensure the bill’s passage.
“I don’t think we’re that far apart, and I think we have a real opportunity to make Iowa roads safer,” he said.
But time is working against lawmakers. The Legislature also is pushing the passage of a $5.3 billion state budget and trying to end this year’s session by the end of next week, relegating matters not related to the budget to the back burner.
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