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Gov. signs texting while driving ban

Catching up on bill-signing, he also OKs measure barring bidding by firms that do work with Sudan.

September 25, 2008|Nancy Vogel and Michael Rothfeld | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — California drivers chafing at the ban on holding cellphones can soon forget about texting, too: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has banned motorists from sending, writing or reading messages on electronic devices starting Jan. 1.

Schwarzenegger signed legislation Wednesday that imposes a $20 fine for a first offense of texting while driving and a $50 fine for any subsequent violation.

As he works against a Tuesday deadline to act on more than 800 bills passed by the Legislature, Schwarzenegger also signed a measure barring companies that do business with the Sudanese government from bidding on state contracts.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement that he was "happy to sign" the prohibition against text-messaging, which surveys show is widespread among drivers.

"Banning electronic text messaging while driving will keep drivers' hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, making our roadways a safer place for all Californians," said Schwarzenegger.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently banned certain railroad workers from using text-messaging devices or cellphones on moving trains in the wake of the Sept. 12 collision between a Metrolink passenger train and a freight train. Investigators are probing whether texting by an engineer was a factor in the crash in Chatsworth, which killed 25 people and injured 135.

Insurers, bicyclists and cellphone companies backed the measure that Schwarzenegger signed Wednesday, as they did the ban on holding a cellphone while driving, which took effect July 1. The earlier law allows drivers to use cellphones only with hands-free devices such as headsets; another law prohibits drivers younger than 18 from using any kind of phone or texting device while behind the wheel.

"When somebody's distracted," said state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who wrote the new law, SB 28, and the earlier laws, "it puts not just the driver at risk but everybody else in the car and everybody else on the highway."

Tom Marshall, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said state officers have issued 19,753 citations to motorists for talking on cellphones without a hands-free device since July 1. The number does not include citations by local police departments.

Marshall said the number of drivers cited for that infraction is far less than those stopped for speeding, but still significant.

"Why everybody isn't hands-free now, I have no idea," he said. Consistent with state actions in favor of human rights that began in the 1980s, Schwarzenegger also signed a bill banning state contract bids from companies that do business with the government of the African nation of Sudan.

That nation has been widely condemned for conducting a genocidal campaign against people living in its Darfur region. The conflict has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million, the governor said.

In signing AB 498 by Assemblyman Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), Schwarzenegger said, "We are continuing to send a message that California will not condone nor enable economic gain at the expense of innocent people."

It is not clear how many companies might be affected by the law.

Schwarzenegger also signed a bill sought by the Los Angeles Unified School District to allow it to continue tapping state construction funds even as it withdraws from a program to fund multitrack, year-round schools.

The $90 million remaining in the multitrack program will be shifted over five years to charter schools serving low-income children under SB 658 by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles).

Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year because it did not shift the money to charter schools, which are public schools freed from some restrictions imposed by state education laws and local school districts.

L.A. Unified director of governmental affairs Santiago Jackson said the district is working to put all of its schools on a two-semester schedule, rather than a multitrack, year-round schedule in which four separate groups of students use the same school with staggered start dates.

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nancy.vogel@latimes.com

michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

Times staff writer Marc Lifsher contributed to this report.

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