Legislation that would create a statewide texting-while-driving ban overcame a last-ditch attempt in the Senate on Friday to gut the bill. The bill's author, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said he will concur with the changes the Senate made. The measure will then head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.
State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, filed an amendment that would’ve outlined an offense as both having been committed in the presence of an officer and having required evidence the driver was not paying attention. The current version of the bill requires either threshold rather than both.
In laying out his amendment, Taylor said that given the list of exceptions to the law that would permit drivers to use their phone — such as operating a navigational tool, reading what the driver believes to be an emergency message, and playing music — requiring more evidence is warranted.
Taylor held up his cell phone and asked his fellow members, “What am I doing? I’m actually looking at [navigational app] Waze, looking for the quickest way out of here,” he joked. “Now I’m searching the greatest hits of the 60's. These are all things that are legal. So I have issue with that.”
Several Republican and Democratic members rose to say his change would make the law unenforceable.
“It won’t stop all behavior, but I believe when something is against the law, people will hesitate,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. “And if this law saves one life, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”
The amendment ultimately failed with a 12-19 vote.
After amendments, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the bill's Senate sponsor, took the floor.
"I have waited 10 years to make this motion: I move final passage of HB 62," the Laredo Democrat said.
Without any further discussion, House Bill 62 passed the Senate on a 23-8 vote.
This is the fourth session in a row Craddick has attempted to pass a texting-while-driving ban. In 2015 and 2013, Craddick's proposal passed the House but died in the Senate. In 2011, it traveled through both chambers only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who said it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”
Texas is one of four states that do not currently have a statewide ban on texting and driving.
After the bill passed, Craddick walked across the Capitol to hug Zaffirini and thank senators for their vote. After lingering for about 15 minutes, he mouthed "thank you" to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and walked out.
In a brief interview afterward, Craddick said he worked with Zaffirini and other senators on the amendments that the Senate approved. He said he is pleased with the current version and has the votes needed in the House to accept the changes without needing to call a conference committee of both chambers to hash out a compromise.
"It feels great," he said. "It's a relief to get it done."
He added that he expects Abbott to sign the bill. He hasn't had direct communication with the governor's office about its plans but said that Abbott told acquaintances in Midland he planned to sign the bill during a recent visit.
"He said he will support the bill and will sign it," he said.