Year after year, the Legislature has rejected sensible measures to curb text-messaging by drivers and to give cities and towns more leeway in enacting smoke-free ordinances. Will 2013 be any different?
State Health Commissioner Terry Cline says his office will try again to get a “local control” bill through the Legislature. In Oklahoma, municipalities aren't allowed to enact tobacco-related rules that are more strict than state law. Cline and others have been working to change that, armed with statistics that highlight the toll, in lives and health care costs, that smoking takes on Oklahomans.
This year, a House bill that would have let local governments adopt ordinances to control smoking in public places didn't make it through a Senate committee. The committee chairman said that bill's ultimate goal was unclear. In 2011, overly broad language derailed a local control bill. That measure had the potential to give cities and towns the ability to regulate how tobacco products were displayed in stores, advertised and even taxed, which understandably had retailers nervous.
Supporters of local control would do well to bring a bill with a clear focus and narrow scope, although that's no guarantee of success. Supporters of anti-texting legislation know that.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has annually quashed efforts to ban texting for all drivers, something now on the books in 39 states. Oklahoma restricts texting by new teen drivers, but no others. Lawmakers have not been swayed by reports such as one by the U.S. Department of Transportation that found drivers who text — not just teens, but all drivers — are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers who aren't texting.
Many lawmakers see anti-texting laws as anti-freedom laws, and note that drivers in Oklahoma can already be cited for inattentive driving. It's a mindset that needs to change. Whether that change occurs in 2013 remains to be seen.