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North Dakota Senate approves revised texting bill

BISMARCK - It looks like North Dakota is headed for a statewide texting while driving ban after all. After lengthy debate, the state Senate voted 32-15 to approve the proposal after softening the penalty. The original bill penalized drivers with ...

BISMARCK - It looks like North Dakota is headed for a statewide texting while driving ban after all.

After lengthy debate, the state Senate voted 32-15 to approve the proposal after softening the penalty.

The original bill penalized drivers with a $100 fine and two points for a first offense. By the time a driver reached a third offense, his or her license would have been suspended for a year.

The bill went into the Senate with a do-not-pass recommendation from the Senate Transportation Committee partly due to concern over the penalty.

However, Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, split the bill into two during the floor session to separate the penalties considered harsh from the rest of the bill.

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Under the revised bill, the penalty for texting while driving is a $100 fine.

House Bill 1195 seeks to ban drivers from using wireless communication devices to compose, read or send electronic messages. This included checking email, texting, instant messaging and using the Internet.

A September 2010 Highway Loss Data Institute report shows 30 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning motorists from texting while driving.

Sen. Gary Lee, R-Casselton, opposed the bill, saying it would be difficult to enforce. There is also no proof other than anecdotal evidence that a law would result in behavior change, he said.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, disagreed, saying having a law in place does change behavior. Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, said North Dakotans support a texting ban.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, opposed the bill, calling it a "slippery slope" when individual behaviors are targeted. She asked legislators if they want to list every individual item that can cause people to be distracted.

"I don't think we do," she said. "We ought not to be in the business of micromanaging. We should be setting general policy."

The House now needs to review what the Senate did to determine if it agrees.

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Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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