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Gara, Thomas Re-Instating Texting While Driving Ban, Prevent Deadly Practice

Today Reps. Les Gara (D-Anch.) and Bill Thomas (R-Haines) announced they are filing bi-partisan legislation to put Alaska’s strong anti-texting law back on the books. Recently a number of judges have questioned whether the existing law covers texting while driving, and have called for the law not to be enforced.

“While we think the better interpretation of the law, and our intention, was to ban dangerous conduct like texting while driving. Rather than wait for appeals, we want to send a clear message to the public, now, that texting, and typing on personal and computer devices can cause death and serious injury. The current uncertainty in the law sends a weak safety message to the public,” said Rep. Gara

“This is a public safety issue. When people type or text while they’re driving, they are endangering people’s lives. That’s not acceptable,” said the bills other Prime Sponsor, Rep. Bill Thomas.

In December a Judge on the Kenai Peninsula ruled the law banning use of certain video devices while driving was not intended to ban texting. And at least one Fairbanks Judge has asked magistrates there not to enforce the law against texters. The District Attorney, Rick Svobodny, has announced he is still prosecuting these cases before judges who agree it covers texting, and the Kenai case is up on appeal.

Gara and Thomas don’t want to leave a mixed message with the public while courts are split on this issue. Last year a tragic case resulted in death while a driver was texting.

Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anch.) and at least one other Republican House member have stated their intention to join as Prime Sponsors before the session starts. Gara and Thomas would like to make sure politics are taken out of this public safety legislation, and are trying to balance the number of Democratic and Republican Prime Sponsors. The list of Prime Sponsors will be announced the first day of session.

Republican and Democratic sponsors of separate cell phone legislation (Reps. Muñoz, Doogan and Gardner) have received indications their bills will not likely pass this session.

Gara and Thomas want to make sure that at least the texting issue is addressed, and therefore have separated their bill from the cell phone bills to enhance the chances of quick passage. It is likely the Prime Sponsors of this legislation will have differing views on the separate cell phone bills, and don’t want to bog down this crucial public safety issue by combining it with cell phone bills that are not likely to pass this year.

For questions call Rep. Les Gara at 250-0106; and Rep. Bill Thomas at 723-2365.

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