Bill Against Texting While Driving Heads to Iowa Governor's Desk

Iowa law enforcement sees the bill as a “huge improvement” over current law that classifies texting while driving as a secondary offense — meaning drivers can be cited for texting while driving only if they are stopped for some other offense.

by James Q. Lynch, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa / April 11, 2017
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(TNS) -- DES MOINES — A ban on texting while driving is on the way to Gov. Terry Branstad, who made the legislation one of his priorities this year.

The GOP governor expressed appreciation Monday for the bipartisan support that Senate File 234 received, as the House voted 90-6 and agreed with the Senate to make texting while driving a primary offense.

Floor manager Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said he would have liked a ban on the use of all hand-held communication devices, but said the bill “accomplishes a lot of things that we’ve been trying to do for several years.”

Although short of a ban, Worthan said SF 234 will allow police to pull over drivers for using a phone to write, send or view electronic messages and texts, viewing social media and engaging in gaming.

SF 234 would allow motorists to still use their device as a telephone, Worthan said, as well use GPS devices.

Still, he said, law enforcement sees the bill as a “huge improvement” over current law that classifies texting while driving as a secondary offense — meaning drivers can be cited for texting while driving only if they are stopped for some other offense.

In the House version of the legislation, only warnings would have been issued during the first year. Worthan anticipates drivers will tell officers they were dialing a number, not texting, if they are stopped.

“But the stop has still happened. The conversation about the danger of texting while driving has happened,” he said.

The bill requires officers to get a search warrant if they seek to find if the driver was dialing rather than texting.

Worthan said the ban on texting while driving was warranted because of the increase in crashes attributed to distracted driving. The Iowa Department of Transportation reported earlier that there were 1,100 crashes and 14 fatalities in 2015 as a result of drivers distracted by a phone or other electronic device. The total number of crashes caused by drivers distracted by a phone or other electronic device increased by 29 percent, and the number of fatalities doubled, between 2014 and 2015.

An amendment calling for an effort to identify the prevalence of racial profiling in Iowa was withdrawn and another establishing rules for motor vehicles passing bicycles was ruled not germane to the bill.

Trespass bill passes

The House voted 92-0 to add its approval to Senate File 260 and send the changes in Iowa trespass law to the governor. Under the bill, the owner, renter or lawful occupant of property has no duty of care to a trespasser. It does not change the common law doctrine of attractive nuisance, which imposes a duty on a landowner to protect children from dangerous conditions or from items that will attract kids on to the property.

It was approved earlier 48-1 by the Senate.

RIGHT TO TRY AMENDED

Terminally ill patients would have a “right to try” by gaining more access to experimental drugs under Senate File 404, which was approved 96-0. The Senate approved it 49-0 earlier, but an amendment means it needs to return.

It would permit manufacturers of investigative drugs, biological products or devices to make them available to eligible patients with terminal illnesses for use as a treatment so long as they provide written consent.

Bill manager Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, offered an amendment to make clear the right-to-try legislation “shall not be construed to allow a patient’s treating physician to assist the patient in committing or attempting to commit suicide” as prohibited by law. It was approved on a voice vote and returns to the Senate.

FORFEITURE SENT

On a 95-1 vote, the House joined the Senate in approving changes to the state civil asset forfeiture law and sent it to the governor.

The state can seize property if it can show by a preponderance of evidence it was used to facilitate a crime, furnished in exchange for a crime or is the proceeds of a crime.

Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Dallas-Melcher, said there have been cases around the country where asset forfeiture has been used in “lesser degrees of suspected criminal activity.” In some cases, the property owner could be innocent yet have property seized without due process.

“In some cases the legal cost to prove innocence and reclaim seized property greatly exceed the value of the property,” Heartsill said.

Under Senate File 446, prosecutors would have to convict a suspected offender of illegal activity before seizing property valued under $5,000 believed to have been associated with crime.

SF 446 would require forfeiture proceedings under $5,000 to go through a criminal process, rather than the current civil proceeding that does not require a conviction.