PHOENIX -- Calling it an unnecessary intrusion on individual rights, the state House voted narrowly Monday to kill legislation that would have imposed Arizona's first-ever statewide ban on texting while driving.
The 31-28 vote came despite arguments by some lawmakers that texters are causing accidents. Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, said one of his son's friends was killed in a head-on crash with a motorist who was distracted by sending a message. But a bare majority of lawmakers felt otherwise.
Monday's vote actually is an about-face for legislators who had approved the exact same measure last week on a 45-15 margin.
But a new vote was demanded by Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, who had supported HB 2125 at that time. He said Monday he was unaware of the contents of the legislation at that time.
That brought a rebuke by Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Kingman, who chided her colleagues for failing to show up and pay attention. But in the end, there were enough House members who wanted to revisit the issue to force the new vote and kill the legislation.
Monday's vote mirrored perennial debates at the Capitol about individual freedom versus the role of government.
Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said there is a constitutional right of people to do stupid things.
"But that ends when you're protecting the liberty of somebody to take another person's life when you make the choice to text and run into somebody head-on, as has happened in the state of Arizona, and take their liberty away completely,'' he said.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, countered said state law already requires motorists to maintain control of their vehicles. He questioned why Arizona would single out texting for special attention, versus banning someone from eating hamburgers or putting on makeup.
"Those are probably good policies,'' Farnsworth said.
"But does the state have to come in and tell us to do that when you already have a law that says you have to maintain control of your vehicle?'' he asked. "And if you don't that you're liable for the damages that happen as a result of your not controlling the vehicle.''
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, rejected that comparison.
"People can multitask,'' he said.
"I can talk on a cell phone and watch the road,'' Kavanagh told colleagues. "I can eat a hamburger and drink a cup of coffee and still watch the road.''
The key, he said, is being able to watch the road.
"Only a small number of people can touch text,'' Kavanagh said, saying that, by necessity, they have to look at the keypad on the cell phone to send a message. "Anybody who is texting has their eyes off the road and it sometimes can be for a lengthy period of time.''
But Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, said that's not necessarily true. He held up his iPhone which has a program called Siri which not only accepts voice commands but allows users to speak messages and direct the phone to send them, all with simply hitting a single key.
Nothing in the law overrules local anti-texting laws already enacted in Tucson and Phoenix. But it means that motorists driving across the two metro areas will have to know whether they have crossed the line into either community and must put their phones aside.
There is still a chance -- albeit a small one -- that lawmakers might agree to some more limited statewide texting law, one that would apply only to anyone with a learner's permit and any newly licensed driver for the first six months.
That measure, however, has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee which is chaired by Farnsworth.
He told Capitol Media Services after Monday's vote he has not yet decided whether to give SB 1056 a hearing. But Farnsworth said while SB 1056 is much narrower in scope, the issues of special legislation aimed at texting remains the same.