State Legislation Trumps West U. Ordinance – Again
Following on the heels of the residential sprinkler ordinance issue, another West U. ordinance has been preempted by state law – this time, the city’s school zone cell phone ordinance, which may have been the only one of its kind in the country.
Last school year was the first year for the city’s ordinance, which prohibited the use of cell phones in the city’s school zone – including hands-free devices. House Bill 55 trumps the city’s ordinance, and makes hands-free devices legal, although handheld devices are still prohibited.
“We don’t intend to change signs or anything else that says no cell phone usage,” said West U. City Manager Michael Ross. “We aren’t going to try to get a sign that is so specific that it breaks out what type of device can be used, but obviously our police are not going to be ticketing for using hands free.”
The new legislation will also require the city to lower the cost of the ticket for using a cell phone in the school zone from the current $200 to $50.
Recently, SB1410 made moot West U.’s recent code requiring new homes to have residential sprinkler systems – a bill signed by Governor Rick Perry, which caused West U. Fire Chief Steve Ralls, Councilman George Boehme, Mayor Bob Kelly and Ross to question how much control the state should have over local law.
“Cities feel, and counties feel, that the state government shouldn’t be telling us what building codes we should have…or if we want to be safer in school zones, then we should have that right,” said Ross. “If residents in that city feel differently, they will elect a new council. We still believe, and so do the experts, that a cell phone call is distracting, no matter if it’s in your hands or in your ear.”
Police Chief Ken Walker says 14 citations were issued last school year for cell phone violations, although it is not known how many, if any, were for using hands-free devices.
“I’ve been in the business for a while,” said Walker of the new legislation. “I shouldn’t be surprised when our elected representatives in Austin don’t act in what I think is in the best interest of their constituents.”