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Column: Countdown ends for some proposed bills

By DAVID JOHNSON, Iowa State Senator

DES MOINES, Iowa — From my driveway in Ocheyedan to the parking lot of the state Capitol in Des Moines is a distance of 229 miles. Senate District 1, which I represent, covers nearly 2,529 square miles. That’s twice the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Needless to say, I put a lot of miles on my car and pickup trucks. Spinning odometers comes with the territory.

That’s a little background for this: Last Tuesday of this week, the Iowa Senate voted 41-7 to make texting while driving a primary traffic violation. That means a law enforcement officer can stop a driver and issue a ticket solely for using a hand-held electronic device to text while operating a motor vehicle. Currently, Iowa law only allows for issuing a ticket for texting as a secondary offense after a motorist is stopped for a different traffic violation, such as running a stop sign or speeding.

A spirited debate broke out over the role of government. I voted for the bill. In fact, last session I introduced legislation designed to deal more directly with distracted driving. That bill, which did not advance, was suggested to me by a veteran northwest Iowa law enforcement official. The scope of that was narrowed this year to address texting while driving only.

Over the many miles I have traveled, I have spent considerable “windshield time” taking calls from constituents and returning them, too, on my cell phone. The bill would still allow motorists to take or place calls on electronic devices, as well as use them for navigation. But a ticket for texting while driving would carry a $30 fine.

During my four-wheeled travels I have seen an increasing number of instances where motorists are using electronic devices while driving. Apparently, others have seen that, too. Some 83 percent of Iowans support tougher enforcement and penalties for texting while driving, according to a recent Iowa Poll.

Too much government? That debate lives on, but not for this bill. This week it did not survive our second and last “funnel” deadline. The Iowa House drove a stake through the measure. It will, however, be back for another run.

Proposed legislation that also failed to pass muster to set the stage for the final weeks of the session:

An increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, now set at $7.25. This was the top priority for Democrats who control the Senate, but they lacked the votes within their own party to pass it.

A 6-percent increase in state supplemental aid for K-12 public schools; a new government facility for juvenile delinquent girls and young women after the governor closed the Toledo Juvenile Home amid reports of abuse, neglect and violation of rights; additional state aid to schools based on students from low-income households. All these passed the Senate but missed the deadline in the House.

Bills that passed the House but were blocked in the Senate:

A ban on the dispensing of abortion-inducing drugs through video-conferencing without a physician present in person; and allowing the lawful possession of gun silencers or noise suppressors.

Bills that continue to be eligible for debate include changes to the state’s current anti-bullying and anti-harassment law; a proposed 10-cent increase over three years in the state fuel tax; and expanding broadband access and capacity across the state.

David Johnson of Ocheyedan represents Iowa Senate District 1 — all of Clay, Dickinson, Lyon,Osceola and Palo Alto counties.