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Proposed texting law continues to spark debate

2/28/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Akron Council leaves two ordinances banning texting while driving on table

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council continues to weigh whether it should approve a city law banning composing and reading text messages while driving.

Following a week’s break and their annual retreat, Council members revisited the issue at their Feb. 25 meetings, with Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large) declaring that “petty political moves” have come into play.

Williams, along with Councilman Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7), first introduced legislation proposing a new law in January. The ordinance as presented in January would have made it a primary offense to text while driving, meaning a driver could be pulled over and cited based on that violation alone. Per state law, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning the driver must first be committing a primary offense in order to be pulled over.

Members of the community have spoken both in favor of and against the proposed new law, with some saying it would unfairly target minorities.

On Feb. 25, Williams and Kammer introduced an amendment to the pending legislation that would make it a secondary offense to text while driving.

“In order to build a consensus among the Council, the ordinance would need to be changed,” Williams said.

Also Feb. 25, Council members Jeff Fusco (D-at large) and Ken Jones (D-Ward 5) introduced their own ordinance addressing texting while driving, which they said they had been researching prior to Williams and Kammer introducing their ordinance.

Fusco said his proposed law has a similar focus as the state law; however, the new city law would exempt use of mobile data terminals and hands-free units and also would direct a portion of fines collected from violators to be used for education.

With competing legislation before Council, Williams, who often stands in opposition to the majority of Council, said he is “very disappointed. However, I am not surprised.”

He noted that as the senior Council member, this is the first time that an alternate piece of legislation has been introduced without notice being given to the sponsors of the original legislation, which he called “pretty disrespectful.

However, he said he plans to “keep my eye focused on the citizens and not focused on petty political moves.”

Jones reminded Williams that Jones had commended him and Kammer for bringing the legislation about, and that there had been community members speaking against the new law as proposed by Williams and Kammer, expressing their distrust and dislike of it.

“At no time were we looking at superseding anything,” Jones said. “I think this is good research legislation.”

Williams said the opposition to his legislation was being overstated, and legislation has been passed before by Council despite community opposition.

“Every Council member wants a good piece of legislation at the end of the day that keeps people safe and keeps people alive,” said Councilman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, which continued to ask for time on both pieces of legislation.

In legislative action, Council approved:

  • an ordinance authorizing application for and acceptance of a grant from the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program through the U.S. Department of Justice to provide funding to combat crime on a neighborhood level. If awarded funding, Akron’s police and planning departments would collaborate with social service agencies and focus on crime in the North Hill area. Up to $1 million could be awarded, but only 14 grants are available nationwide;
  • a resolution supporting the Bhutanese Community Association of Akron’s grant application to the Ethnic Community Self Help Program.
    According to Councilman James Hurley (D-Ward 1), whose ward encompasses North Hill, a growing number of Bhutanese refugees have settled in North Hill since 2009.
    “The Bhutanese have made a positive impact on Akron,” Hurley said. “They need to be welcomed here.”
    The grant would make available an office location and staff and provide assistance with interpretation, crime and housing issues;
  • a resolution congratulating the St. Vincent-St. Mary High School football team on its Division III state championship. Coach Dan Boarman was in attendance and said the championship belongs to more than just the team.
    “It belongs to Akron, and I’m happy that it brings it back to Akron,” he said; and
  • a resolution congratulating Akron natives Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, who comprise the duo the Black Keys, for recently winning four Grammy Awards.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place March 4 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m., also in Council Chambers.

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