AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A renewed push to make texting while driving illegal in Texas stayed afloat Wednesday, but only after narrowly defeating bipartisan resistance to an outright ban over concerns that ranged from racial profiling to government meddling.
The House eventually gave preliminary approval to leveling a $100 fine to drivers caught texting behind the wheel. Yet another hurdle for backers of a Texas texting ban remains: Gov. Rick Perry, who vetoed a similar bill in 2011.
Perry already has signaled that his stance hasn't changed — leaving shaky this second try by more than two dozen Republicans and Democrats, who point toward Texas being among just 10 states without laws against texting while driving.
Prevailing in a three-hour debate on the House floor, however, left supporters savoring a win for now.
"This is a uniform ban across the state that is about public safety and saving lives," said Republican state Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland, who is the longest-serving member of the House.
Perry characterizes a texting-while-driving ban as a form of government micromanagement. He says educating drivers is the key to deterrence.
The bill passed 98-47 and still needs final House approval.
Yet Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston nearly de-fanged the proposal before it even reached a vote. He sought to change the bill language in a way that would effectively forbid patrol officers from pulling over a driver solely for being caught texting.
Dutton earlier told House members he worried about black drivers being profiled and disproportionately stopped over texting allegations. He later made the case against expanding government — an argument that appealed to many Republicans.
Dutton's amendment was so narrowly defeated that the House clerk twice polled every member about their vote — including once after a 72-72 tie.
"There is intent around here to pass this bill, even if they have to scare the heck out of you," Dutton said.
Other amendments prevailed. One would get drivers off the hook if they're pulled over for looking at their phone but "reasonably believed" that an incoming text message concerned an emergency — regardless if there was one or not.
A 2009 federal study showed texting takes a driver's eyes off the wheel for an average 4.6 seconds, enough time to travel the length of a football field at 55 miles an hour.
In absence of a state law, some Texas cities already ban texting while driving. Those include Austin, El Paso and San Antonio.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber