The effort to ban text-messaging while driving has resumed at the Capitol. The Legislature hasn't warmed to this common-sense idea, which has been tried several times in recent years. Three Democrats are trying again. Reps. Curtis McDaniel of Smithville, Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa and Jerry Shoemake of Morris are behind House Bill 1503, which made it out of a House committee this week. It bans texting while a vehicle is in motion, and exempts texts to emergency response operators, medical providers, firefighters and law enforcement. This really shouldn't be a partisan issue but has become one — Republicans view such a ban as government intrusion on individual rights. But driving a car isn't a right. It's a privilege. Texting while driving endangers not just the driver but other motorists. It's time Oklahoma join the many states that have made texting at the wheel illegal.
Judges are supposed to be impartial, but this doesn't extend to sentiments expressed during the sentencing phase of criminal proceedings. Once a jury has declared a defendant guilty, remarks by judges are appropriate. In the case of Christopher Travis Baker, the remarks by Oklahoma County District Judge Kenneth C. Watson were deserved. “You are a disgrace to your family,” Watson told Baker, convicted of shooting an off-duty sheriff's deputy making a bank deposit for a restaurant. The victim survived the shooting but is permanently affected by it. Watson sentenced Baker this week to life in prison plus 30 years. Fellow judge Ray Elliott is known for his post-conviction remarks. He said this to a convicted embezzler: “You're a thief, plain and simple.” After another trial, Elliott's response to a defendant trying to justify her criminal behavior was to say, “I'm not buying it.” Justice may be blind, but judges aren't deaf and dumb. They're human and entitled to give a lecture on occasion.
Legislative spring cleaning
We've previously praised lawmakers who are seeking to remove outmoded, obsolete or even unconstitutional laws from the books. The unenforceable blasphemy law is the most notable example targeted for repeal this year. So we also like an idea promoted by state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. His Senate Bill 310 creates a “Spring Cleaning Commission” that would identify obsolete or duplicative laws so legislators could repeal them. The commission would also identify archaic language that needs to be updated, and would recommend streamlining statutes where possible. Perhaps most importantly, the group would identify regulations impacting business activity whose original purpose is no longer justifiable. The nature of our legislative process allows laws to accumulate in an ad hoc fashion that can have unintended results. It makes sense to conduct a top-to-bottom review to ensure the system is as consistent, cohesive and sensible as possible.