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Panel kills SD plan to ban texting while driving

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota legislative committee has killed a bill that would have banned texting while driving statewide, despite sometimes-tearful testimony from people whose loved ones have been killed in texting-related wrecks.

The bill was rejected Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee. Police chiefs, insurance lobbyists, a grief-stricken widow and the man who killed her husband all testified in support of the ban. No one testified against the bill, which previously had passed the Senate.

Though similar bills have failed in past legislative sessions, backers had hoped this year would be different. Four South Dakota cities — including Sioux Falls, its largest — have instituted texting bans in recent months.

But committee members cited a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association that said it isn't clear whether texting bans have lowered crash rates in the 39 states that have them. The uncertainty of the ban's effectiveness sealed its fate.

"There are other ways to influence our culture, to teach people that texting while driving is not socially accepted," said Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids.

The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said he's disappointed the bill was killed after no one testified against it in both the Senate and House committee hearings. He said House supporters might try to resurrect the bill, but he will propose the measure again next year if it doesn't pass this year.

"''I'll be back," Vehle said.

Janeane Christensen pushed the bill's passage, talking about her family's anguish over the 2010 death of her husband, Jon. Then-20-year-old Justin Iburg was checking texts on his cellphone when he slammed into two cars and a motorcycle, killing Jon.

"It's an ambulance ride I'll never forget," Christensen told the committee.

"There's no more father-and-son trips, and my daughter had a special bond with her father that can never be replaced. ... It's time something be done so maybe another family won't have to go through this pain."

Iburg also urged its passage, his voice cracking with emotion as he read the newspaper obituary for the man he killed.

"I tore their family apart," he said of the Christensens.

Iburg was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter in Jon Christensen's death, but he was convicted of reckless driving. He gave up his driver's license for five years and talks about the dangers of distracted driving as part of his criminal sentence.

"I didn't see it as breaking the law," Iburg said. "If this had been a law, I would've thought twice before reading a pointless text."

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Follow Chet Brokaw on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chetbrokaw . Follow Amber Hunt at http://www.twitter.com/reporteramber .

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