Years and timing. Sometimes an issue lingers and lingers and, then, it sees the light of day by a pretty substantial margin.

On Tuesday the House passed Senate Bill 1274a on a 53-17 vote, which would officially make texting while driving illegal in Idaho. The state has an inattentive driving statute, but nothing on the books specifically identifying texting as an offense.

The bill will be returned to the Senate to consider a House amendment that removed an exemption for law enforcement or emergency vehicles. In February, the Senate passed the bill 29-6.

During the past three years, lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation dealing with texting while driving. The current bill, authored by Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, aimed to simplify the language and to clearly define what texting while driving is. Those were problems with bills in past years, according to Hammond.

Proponents say the bill defines what a simple definition of texting is, one that is easy for law enforcement to apply. Texting is defined as, “Engaging in the review of, or manual preparation and transmission of, written communications via handheld wireless devices.”

Those in favor of the bill say it’s a dangerous thing to do, and that by clearly showing that it is against the law, people are less likely to do it.

But opponents of the bill pointed to vagueness in the legislation about texting, including whether checking applications, such as Facebook, would count as texting while driving. They also noted that there are other forms of distractions besides texting that could be addressed, so why single out texting.

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill did not really say whether or not checking other applications is an infraction. “I’m not clear, because written communications isn’t really defined.”

Rep. Judy Ellsworth, who sponsored the bill in the House, told Simpson that “we could get into an is-is debate, but I do know that teenagers know what texting is, and I believe that this bill will send that message to them.”

Simpson also brought up questions about using GPS devices, where a user is required to type in coordinates for it to function.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, also asked Ellsworth about inputting a website into a cell phone and if that is covered by the bill.

Ellsworth said it currently isn’t, but could be amended to include it. She insisted, however, that the bill is still good legislation “I think this will send a great message on text messaging to teenagers by passing this legislation as is.”

If the Senate approves the amendment change in the House and there are no additional amendments, the legislation heads to the governor’s office for his consideration.

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