Taking a cue from Gov. Greg Abbott’s vow to call out state legislators who defy his agenda during the Texas Legislature’s ongoing special session, we today begin calling out state legislators who supposedly represent our area but are more intent on undermining local control. And that means calling out state Sen. Brian Birdwell regarding the Texas Senate’s bid to scrap local ordinances that, when enforced, can save cherished lives from distracted driving.
We give Birdwell an F in this matter because he not only placed rigid political ideology over the practical concern of saving lives, he also voted down an amendment that would have respected his tyrannical state-rules-all ideology while nonetheless saving those aforementioned lives. He declined the opportunity to seek reasonable compromise. And that means he earns no respect from us on this topic, given the almost daily madness we see of motorists weaving in and out of lanes in Central Texas while talking, texting or surfing Facebook on their smartphones.
Sen. Don Huffines’ Senate Bill 15, spurred by Abbott, would gut city ordinances all across Texas that go beyond an anemic, newly approved state law banning texting while driving. Many town councils have opted to go further in protecting their residents, up to and including requiring “hands-free” driving with every motorist’s hands squarely on the wheel of his or her vehicle in traffic — not fidgeting, fussing or fooling with some mobile-phone device in hand.
During Senate debate, Huffines insisted that statewide uniformity was needed so motorists driving from one municipality to the next wouldn’t have to wonder what ordinance applied. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, in the spirit of compromise, said she was willing to bow to Huffines’ notion of the state calling all shots in traffic safety but added it was then incumbent on lawmakers to heed law enforcement officials who say Huffines’ bill would leave our roads ripe for more vehicular mayhem and more traffic injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, the Senate cavalierly passed Huffines’ bill without Zaffirini’s amendment limiting motorists to “hands-free devices” when driving.
We acknowledge Huffines’ argument that motorists leaving one municipality and entering another may not be aware of tougher ordinances in place. Yet if he were sincere, Zaffirini’s amendment would have readily addressed this concern. What’s more, Huffines ignores the fact town councils are trying to make sure their residents are safe — their family members, their friends, their neighbors. By undermining cities making public safety a priority, Abbott, Huffines and their allies place us all in far greater peril on the road.
Birdwell, a Granbury Republican, backed Huffines’ failed logic, built on utter nonsense about this being, to quote Huffines, a matter of “individual liberty and freedom.” Freedom to what? Crash and possibly maim or kill a motorist, passenger or pedestrian so you can talk unrestrained or fiddle feverishly on your smartphone while driving?