By Nathan Brown

An eastern Idaho lawmaker's bill to override local bans on using a cellphone while driving failed to make it out of committee by just one vote Thursday.

Rep. Chad Christensen's bill would have overridden the local bans in place in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Hailey, Ketchum and Blaine County. Christensen, R-Ammon, said he believes the bans are unnecessary, and that they create confusion since drivers frequently cross city and county lines and might not be aware of the local ordinances.

“When a city issues a ban, it doesn’t just affect residents of a city,” he said.

Also, Christensen said he had heard complaints from constituents about ordinances such as the one in Idaho Falls that still allow police and other first responders to use cellphones while driving to carry out their duties.

“They feel the ruling class is over them, and the ruling class is not following the law they’re required to follow,” Christensen said. “So it’s creating a special class.”

Idaho has a statewide ban on texting while driving, but it only applies to texting specifically, not other uses of a cellphone, and has proven difficult to enforce. A bill to create a statewide ban on using a handheld cellphone while driving was voted down in the state Senate a week ago.

Jess Harrison, executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities, said some cities enacted bans because they had heard concerns from their police about distracted driving. In Pocatello, she said, police said one-third of crashes involved handheld cellphone use.

“A lot of these communities heard directly from law enforcement, and that’s why they enacted those bans,” Harrison said.

Harrison also pointed to the extensive educational efforts Idaho Falls took as it rolled out its ordinance, waiting several months to write tickets and advertising extensively. She said the bill was an attack on the principle that lawmakers closest to the people are best-suited to make decisions.

“City officials are the closest elected officials to their communities,” she said.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, who supported Christensen's bill, read from a Post Register article written in December, when police were stopping people to warn them about the new ordinance. It quoted police saying it could be used as a tool to stop people and find other evidence of illegal activity, a use Zollinger opposes. Zollinger also said Idaho Falls is surrounded by areas where using a cellphone while driving is legal. He lives just outside city limits, and he said he can cross in and out of the city several times just on his drive to work.

“There are probably 40 different entrances to the city of Idaho Falls, depending on where you’re coming from,” he said.

The committee voted to reject two motions from Democratic lawmakers, one to hold it in committee and one to hold it for two weeks. Then, a motion to send it on to the House floor failed 7-8, with four Republicans joining the committee's four Democrats to oppose it. That leaves the measure essentially dead for the session.


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