Legislature(2015 - 2016)CAPITOL 106
04/07/2016 08:00 AM House STATE AFFAIRS
Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 123-USE OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES WHILE DRIVING 8:16:28 AM CHAIR LYNN announced that the next order of business would be CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 123(JUD), "An Act relating to the bail forfeiture schedule and the penalty for the use of electronic devices while driving; and providing for an effective date." 8:16:43 AM SENATOR KEVIN MEYER, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor of SB 123, advised that Anchorage recently passed an ordinance to lower the penalty for texting while driving from a class A misdemeanor to a $500 fine or citation. This bill attempts to turn the Anchorage ordinance into a statewide law. He indicated that under SB 123, the current law is not being enforced, and he posited that the $500 fine would provide a stronger deterrent against drivers' texting while operating a motor vehicle. CHAIR LYNN asked Senator Meyer to confirm he is saying that the proposed lowering of the violation from a misdemeanor to a $500 fine would make it less likely drivers would text while driving. SENATOR MEYER explained that in order to prosecute a class A misdemeanor, a search warrant must be served to obtain the cell phone, then the content of the cell phone must be investigated, and offered that trying the case in a court of law is expensive, time consuming, and hard to prove. For example, he said, the current law in Anchorage was passed in 2011, only 20 individuals were charged over that four year period, and only four of those individuals were actually convicted. Therefore, he pointed out, current law does not work, yet the ordinance passed in Anchorage appeared to work when it went to a violation or fine, such as a speeding ticket. He stressed that no other provision of current law will be changed, such that if someone is texting, gets into an accident and causes serious harm, injury, or death, the individual will suffer the higher penalty. The intent of this bill is to try to prevent a serious accident from taking place, he advised. CHAIR LYNN asked whether it is difficult for law enforcement to observe texting taking place in another vehicle. SENATOR MEYER responded that it is possible to see people texting while they are driving, and [texting while driving] is unsafe. 8:20:29 AM REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ said she supports the intent of the bill, although she expressed concern regarding individuals caught texting three or four times, and suggested increasing the penalty if they are caught texting over two times. SENATOR MEYER replied that he had not considered multiple violations, but if someone is picked up multiple times, they have potentially spent $2,000, which one would hope was a deterrent. He reiterated that currently people texting are not being pulled over at all. 8:22:19 AM EDRA MORLEDGE, Staff, Senator Kevin Meyer, Alaska State Legislature, answered that Senator Meyer's office did not contemplate habitual offenders, and she deferred to Lieutenant David Hanson. She said she was unsure whether there is latitude for officers to charge under a different statute, such as reckless endangerment, and whether dispatch could look up a person's driving record while he/she is pulled over. 8:22:54 AM LIEUTENANT DAVID HANSON, Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety, advised he has been with the Alaska State Troopers for 22 years, and he is the current deputy commander of the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol overseeing activity of patrol troopers dedicated to working in the safety corridors and special events around the state. LIEUTENANT HANSON, in response to a question from Chair Lynn, advised that he reviewed the case records from 2012 through 2015, and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) initiated a total of 69 cases involving texting, operating a screen device, or otherwise driving while distracted in a motor vehicle. Of the 69 cases, 17 were charged under 13 AAC 02.495(c), which he described as a catch-all regulation addressing drivers distracted by something in the vehicle, such as a small dog, trying to eat, operating an electronic device, or applying makeup, for example. He advised the other 52 cases were charged under AS 28.35.161, which specifically addressing prohibiting screen devices, which is roughly 13 cases each year. Troopers are less likely to charge an individual with a class A misdemeanor under AS 28.35.161, burden of proof requirements in criminal proceedings, evidence the driver was distracted by a screen device. Whereas, he pointed out, the trooper might have an in-car video that would capture bad driving, such as weaving within the lane, abrupt braking, or slow or erratic speeds. LIEUTENANT HANSON offered that it is oftentimes difficult and unsafe for the trooper to attempt to document a driver texting or using his/her phone for a reason that violates the statutory definition. The trooper would then appear in a criminal trial with little or no physical evidence. He offered, reducing the crime to a violation allows a trooper to observe an offense such as, a driver running a stop sign or making an illegal lane change, and simply cite them into court. He related that SB 123 would still allow a due process option and encourage law enforcement to contact more drivers observed committing this offense to educate them on the dangers of texting and driving, and take an appropriate enforcement action. 8:25:55 AM CHAIR LYNN reiterated his question previously asked of Senator Meyer regarding the difficulty in looking into someone's car and observing the driver texting. LIEUTENANT HANSON replied that it is not that difficult. The question becomes whether that person is dialing a phone number, which they are allowed to do under current law, or if he/she is texting. He noted that in the case of a larger screen being held in front of the person, it is not difficult for the trooper to see text bubbles, which indicate texting. Many times the troopers will see people looking down into their laps and drive erratically or slowly within a lane, and it takes 30-60 seconds of investigation while driving next to a vehicle to see what is going on and whether the driver is being distracted by something. In reality, he said, if a person is dialing a phone, it takes a couple of seconds, especially with the hands free features, and there is no need to be distracted by the screen device for any length of time. 8:27:43 AM REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ said she agrees with the intent of the bill and opined that as written, she could imagine that many law enforcement officers don't bother due to the requirements of a misdemeanor, especially when moving on to a robbery or an assault. She noted the burden of proof is higher when charging someone with reckless driving; this statute would make it easy if they are texting; and more people will be cited if it is a violation. She referred to her concern with the individual with two or four violations on the books, and said she would like to see a bigger hammer for those people habitually texting. 8:30:35 AM LIEUTENANT HANSON agreed that subsequent offenses could be more difficult to figure out, such as "if one hammer doesn't work, will a second hammer work?" He opined that if troopers are able to stop more people and $500 fines are issued, most people will be significantly affected and hopefully stop this behavior. He suggested that the point system may work, because eventually the person would receive an administrative action from the Division of Motor Vehicles, which could adversely affect the person's car insurance. The issue of the violation becoming a misdemeanor at some point would be difficult, because depending on where a person is in the process with his/her prior activity, the Alaska Public Safety Information Network (APSIN) might not have the information. He then clarified that the revenue from the citations go into the general fund. Speaking from an enforcement point of view and his own experiences, he suggested that the point system would probably be the deterrent Representative Vazquez is looking for without elevating this to a reckless driving level. For example, if a $500 fine and a four point offense were imposed, he opined that would be a fairly strong deterrent. 8:33:36 AM REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ remarked that she likes the idea of added points, yet the point system of driving under the influence is fairly Draconian at times and yet there are repeat offenders. She said she would like to see an amendment adding the point system as described by Lieutenant Hanson. 8:34:17 AM SENATOR MEYER noted that the point system is set through regulation. MS. MORLEDGE advised that the point system is established by the Department of Administration, and she would look into amending SB 123 to direct the department to add [texting while driving] to the point system. CHAIR LYNN pointed out that Alaska's late friend, Max Gruenberg, had a bill addressing the issue in the House State Affairs Standing Committee some years ago. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER recommended moving slowly on the point system regulation, not because it is a bad idea, but to make one change at a time to allow time on the violation first. REPRESENTATIVE KREISS-TOMKINS noted that some members of this committee are also on the next committee of referral, and he asked whether members could work with Representative Vazquez to examine options. REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ remarked that if it is the will of the committee, the bill should be moved out today to the next committee of referral. SENATOR MEYER remarked he looks forward to working with Representative Vazquez' office on a possible amendment, so that when the proposed legislation gets to the House Judiciary Standing Committee, it is ready to go. 8:37:42 AM The committee took a brief at ease. 8:37:58 AM REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ moved to report CSSB 123(JUD), labeled 29-LS1198\E out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSSB 123(JUD) passed from the House State Affairs Standing Committee.