The final day of the legislative session brought Sen. Tracey Eide a victory on her top priority – a crackdown on driving while talking on the phone.
The House passed the tougher Senate version of the bill allowing police to pull over drivers for using a phone handset to talk or send a text message. Both are already illegal, but are secondary offenses, meaning police can only ticket drivers for them if they’ve pulled them over for speeding or some other violation. They will become primary offenses if Gov. Chris Gregoire signs the bill.
Last week, the House voted to make texting, not talking on a phone, a primary offense. But it backed down today, with many Democrats and some Republicans supporting a full ban on all use of a handheld phone. Both versions also ban all phone use in cars for teenagers, including for voice-operated phones.
Eide said last week she was disappointed but figured she had to compromise to get anything.
But today she said she had wanted all along to fight, but didn’t want to give away her game plan. It took a lot of behind the scenes work, she said.
This is the time of the session for deals to be cut, and Eide has a powerful job as majority floor leader, which allows her to keep bills from getting to the floor. But she said she didn’t twist arms: “I don’t play that game. I just do what’s good policy.”
Supporters said police and other public-safety officials lobbied hard in the past week, and regular folks chimed in too. “A lot of people communicated to me over there (in the House) that they were getting inundated with e-mails,” Eide said.
Eide fought for the cell phone ban for a decade, compromising in 2007 when cell phone use became a secondary offense.
A few Republicans voted yes, including Rep. Mike Hope, a Seattle police officer. “I saw it both ways, originally,” Hope said. He says talking on the phone while driving is clearly dangerous, but he was OK with the scaled-back version that only ban texting, which he sees as the bigger distraction.
And he’s not sure police will be able to enforce it. Police sometimes see a driver breaking the law but are on their way to a more serious call, he said.