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Published: Wednesday, 6/29/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Ohio House OKs bill on drivers who text

Senate also gets 'pit bulls' proposal


COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposed law that would make Ohio the 34th state to specifically criminalize texting while driving.

The chamber gave almost as strong support to a separate bill to eliminate Ohio's distinction as the only state that automatically labels the ''pit bull'' a "vicious dog'' by virtue of its breed.

Both bills head to the Senate, which, except for an expected brief return in two weeks, left town for the summer Tuesday.

Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), sponsor of the texting bill, said he was inspired to pursue legislation after an accident in his district.

"A 16-year-old girl, a few weeks after getting her license, was texting while driving,'' he said. "Nobody told her in driver's ed that this was illegal. She went across the center line and killed a motorcyclist coming the opposite direction. I have to ask: Whose rights are you looking out for by being against this legislation?''

The legislation, House Bill 99, passed the chamber by a vote of 88-10.

After a six-month grace period during which violators would receive warnings, those pulled over for texting while driving would face a minor misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $150.

It would not override Toledo's more stringent ordinance under which repeat violators could be fined as much as $1,000 and face up to six months in jail.

Mr. Damschroder said he expects resistance in the Senate amid arguments that distracted driving, for whatever the reason, is already illegal in Ohio.

"This is not your typical distracted driving,'' he said. "Distracted driving is tuning your radio, putting a CD in, smoking a cigarette, putting on lipstick. ... For texting, you have to take your eyes off the road. If you look away for several seconds, it's comparable to reading a newspaper while driving. I've tried that. It doesn't work.''

Rep. Nancy Garland (D., New Albany), Mr. Damschroder's co-sponsor of the bill, said studies have shown that a typical texter takes his or her eyes off the road for five seconds.

"At 55 miles an hour, they travel the entire length of a football field without looking at the road,'' she said. "I drive past a football field every day coming down here and imagine what if I close my eyes. What could happen during that time period?''

Tuesday marked the second time the House has voted to end Ohio's practice of automatically labeling the ''pit bull'' a vicious dog. That practice subjects their owners to liability insurance and other requirements and increases the chances such a dog would be euthanized if picked up on the street.

Current law defines a "vicious dog'' as one that, without provocation, has killed or seriously injured a person, has killed another dog, or is of the general breed known as "pit bull.''

House Bill 14 would strip the ''pit bill''-specific language from the law and establish broader classifications of dogs that would judge the behavior of the dog and hold its owner responsible for its actions.

"The specific-breed language doesn't work,'' said. Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), the bill's sponsor. "It never really did. It provided a false sense of security for a brief period of time [and] covered the real issue of vicious and dangerous dogs.''

Last session's ''pit bull'' bill died without a vote in the Senate, in part because it lacked support from dog wardens. This time, the dog wardens have signed on to the effort.

"I support the bill because it helps ensure that animals will not be captured, impounded, and terminated simply because of [their] breed,'' Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon), said. "It's unjust to punish owners by taking away their pets, even if they have raised a well-behaved family dog.''

The chamber voted 69-29 in favor of the bill. Rep. Mike Foley (D., Cleveland) was among the "no'' votes.

"On a daily basis, there have been 'pit bull' attacks from Cuyahoga County,'' he said. " 'Pit bulls' are bred to be different. They're not like sheepdogs or bred to herd cattle.''

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