Gov. Bob McDonnell is reducing fines for a new law that would ban texting while driving in Virginia.
He’s also adding exceptions to a bill that would ban the use of unmanned surveillance drone aircraft in the commonwealth.
They are part of scores of amendments he's offering to legislation the General Assembly passed in its 2013 session ahead of a Monday midnight deadline. Among the larger issues are amendments to his marquee transportation funding reforms and conditions for expanding Medicaid in Virginia.
McDonnell's amendment to the texting-while-driving ban makes it a primary offense, but it brings the fines more into line with existing offenses such as reckless driving.
His amendments keep in place a broad ban on government use of spy drones with exceptions for search-and-rescue operations.
McDonnell’s press secretary sent the following letter to the media:
Governor McDonnell continues finalizing actions on major bills at this hour. We do not anticipate action on the transportation legislation or the budget amendments (which will include action on Medicaid funding/reforms) until late tonight near the midnight deadline. We will communicate those decisions early Tuesday morning via press releases.
At this point, action has been taken on two pieces of legislation many of you have been following. In an effort to keep you informed about these matters of interest in a timely manner, I offer the following summaries of these actions. The actions will be posted on LIS sometime tomorrow for you to read in detail.
Amendments have been proposed to the drone moratorium and texting while driving bills. Please see below for our comments about those amendments.
Governor McDonnell is sending amendments to the General Assembly on the drone moratorium bill that would allow the use of this technology for certain law enforcement operations such as the search or rescue of missing persons or in cases involving imminent danger to any person. This will allow law enforcement officials to use this developing technology to protect public safety while respecting individual rights of citizens and their expectation of privacy. Additionally, these amendments clarify that this legislation does not apply to institutions of higher education or other entities engaged in research and development of this and related technology. Lastly, the governor’s amendments will require that the Department of Criminal Justice Services help develop guidelines for the appropriate use of drones by law enforcement agencies in the future.
The governor believes that texting while driving is a dangerous activity and motorists should refrain from this, and all, distractions while behind the wheel. Texting is but one of many dangerous driving distractions that can cause crashes, injuries and deaths on Virginia highways. Drivers should concentrate on their responsibility of operating a motor vehicle safely and remaining in control at all times, and therefore should avoid texting and other distractions that can take their attention away from the roadway and cause accidents. The governor supports making texting while driving a primary offense, but has proposed to reduce the fines for convictions to bring them more in line with the penalties for comparable violations such as DUI and reckless driving. Additionally, the governor’s amendments will require that the Department of Criminal Justice Services make training available to state and local law enforcement agencies for enforcement of this new law.