A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved H. 4282, a bill sponsored by Rep. Don Smith, R-North Augusta. The senators gave approval after stripping Smith's bill completely and inserting the contents of the Senate version, S. 642. That bill also bans texting while driving and imposes a $25 fine but does not carry separate limitations on school bus drivers.
The effort to change the law might seem circuitous but it's not unusual, observers say.
The Senate version of the bill missed the May 1 Crossover Day deadline, which is when bills must clear their originating chamber and be passed to the opposite body to avoid a much more difficult path to passage. However, the Senate will still debate S. 642 next week and likely make any changes to the House bill, which has made crossover deadline, before using it as a vehicle for the Senate changes and sending it back to the House.
Smith, who has testified repeatedly on his bill, appeared Wednesday before subcommittee members Sens. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and Jake Knotts, R-Lexington.
"I'm not saying this is the perfect bill," Smith said. "The main thing I want to do is get something accomplished and get something out there. I do think this is a real key issue."
His proposal had originally prohibited all hand-held cell phone use while driving, but lawmakers objected on several points. Many legislators admitted they rely on their cell phones to conduct business while driving to Columbia when the Legislature is in session.
Others questioned where to draw the line on distracted driving, which they argued is also caused by eating, applying makeup, reading newspapers and attending to children.
Smith stressed that the $25 fine may not seem large, but the existence of a new traffic law is estimated to compel 82 percent of the public to obey it.
"I feel very strongly about the fact we really do need to do something about text messaging on the roads," he said. "That in itself is a positive move as far as public safety is concerned."