Distracted driving bill hits un-ID'd object on route to passage

Now you see it, now you don't.

We're talking about the distracted driving legislation that was rolling down the legislative highway toward passage in the House, and in fact was voted on Tuesday - at least partially - before being abruptly bumped by the House Speaker because of a scheduling conflict.

To recap: the House was to vote on a Senate bill that would ban texting while driving. Also orbiting the House chamber was a bill to ban all hand-held cell phones.  (See Tuesday's Inquirer for a full explanation of the bills). On Monday House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin told the Inquirer only the texting bill would be considered. The following morning Miskin said both bills were to be considered.

After an hour of debate on the texting bill, Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery) offered an amendment that changed the texting offense from secondary to primary - meaning a police officer could stop a driver solely for texting and not have to have another reason to pull them over. 

It passed with a resounding 128 votes. Minutes later, at about 2:20 p.m., House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) adjourned the House for a 2:30 legal training session in the Capitol that several dozen members were to attend.

Shapiro protested on the House floor and off, saying the vote for full passage of the bill would have taken only a minute. House Minority leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) - who was to attend the conference -and other Democrats stormed up to the Capitol press room calling the Republican move "outrageous."

"This could have been done today but they dropped the ball," said Dermody. "This truly is an issue of public safety in this state."

But Miskin said there were other amendments and Smith broke to allow members to attend the conference.

Miskin offered no clear idea of when the bill would be brought back and the vote completed. Sesson resumes Wednesday.

"The House GOP leadership has an obligation to the group of 128 bipartisan members who voted for the ban on texting while driving and to the people of Pennsylvania to get this done and pass the bill tomorrow," said Shapiro on Tuesday. "More delays and parliamentary tricks will only lead to more accidents on our roadways."

When the House roll call was released later in the day we noted among the 69 "no" votes on the Shapiro amendment were Smith and House Majority leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) 


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