Lots of action in the cellphones and driving front for the Lege this session.
In 2007, a proposed law [to restrict cellphone usage while driving] never got beyond a legislative committee. Four months later, a Houston motorist talking on a phone struck and killed Harris County Deputy Constable Jason Norling as he wrote a traffic ticket on the shoulder of the Westpark Tollway.
Once again, victims' families will push forward. It's a tough sell in Texas, where lobbyists representing phone companies are influential and drivers value their independence.
With one limited exception -- a 2005 law prohibiting newly licensed teenaged drivers from using a cell phone during their first six months behind the wheel -- previous efforts have gone nowhere.
"The communications companies have really come out strongly against my bills in the past," said Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, among at least nine legislators trying again.
Menendez talks on a phone while driving, but his phone is hands-free.
Lawmakers have filed several bills, mainly to prohibit text-messaging while driving, restrict phone use in a school zone or require all drivers to use hands-free devices.
No state has an outright ban on cell phone use behind the wheel. But about 30 other states -- as well as several cities -- impose restrictions, including bans on text-messaging or requiring hands-free devices.
Spokespersons for AT&T and Verizon denied their companies have lobbied against cell phone restrictions, but they're not promoting them either. Spokesman Kerry Hibbs said AT&T supports legislation to ban text-messaging while driving and has never opposed city ordinances, including some in Texas, requiring hands-free phones in school zones.
Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, is sponsoring legislation to crack down on several forms of "inattentive" driving, including reading, applying makeup, shaving, eating and drinking coffee behind the wheel. The bill wouldn't forbid those practices, but it would allow fines to be doubled for traffic offenses to which they contributed.