“This is a serious, serious issue,” Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told the committee.
The perennial bill brought up by Wirth got a unanimous do-pass and now has just two real challenges — the House floor and time. The second is a larger problem at this time. By the time the House meets on the floor, there could be less than 48 hours left in the session.
The bill, SB 19, cleared the House Judiciary Committee with minimal debate.
By this time, Wirth is well-versed in answering the questions about the bill. Most of the items that House members questioned — such as an area of the bill that exempts ham radio operators — were added through amendment in the Senate in this or past sessions.
There were some minor problems with the bill, but none large enough for any representatives to vote against it. Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, was worried about the escalating cost of the penalties.
Wirth explained that the bill bans more than just texting while driving. Things like responding to emails or using instant messaging programs would also be banned.
“If you’re driving, you can’t pick up your phone and start dialing on the phone to make the call,” Wirth said. However, you could answer and speak with a hands-free device or text using a hands-free device.
“You can engage the phone using your headset,” Wirth said.
There were some moments of levity as one would expect from a late-night session.
When Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was called on to debate the bill he pretended to be texting.
“I’ve been waiting all session for that,” Egolf said.
Rep. James Hall, R-Sandia Park, noted that it was more dangerous to be texting while driving than drinking and driving.
“You never hear someone call up tipsy tow and say, ‘Pick me up, I have a cell phone,'” Hall said.