Governor Walker signs House Bill 333 at Bowman Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 in Anchorage. (Brice Habeger photo | Office of the Governor)

Governor Walker signs House Bill 333 at Bowman Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 in Anchorage. (Brice Habeger photo | Office of the Governor)

Walker signs bill allowing cities to ban cellphone use in school zones

Drivers would be forbidden from talking on phones if municipalities prohibit it

Alaskans are already forbidden from texting while driving, and on Wednesday, Gov. Bill Walker signed legislation that could keep them from driving and talking on the phone, too.

In a ceremony at Anchorage’s Bowman Elementary School, the governor approved House Bill 333 by Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage.

The bill allows boroughs and cities to prohibit drivers from using their cellphones in school zones. The ban doesn’t become effective unless a borough passes an ordinance implementing the ban.

“It’s basically an opt-in. It requires local government engagement to implement,” Birch said by phone on Thursday evening.

The bill doesn’t have broad implications — Birch said lawmakers were trying to pass something that wouldn’t garner a great deal of opposition, as a larger ban on driving while talking might have done.

The idea behind the bill comes from Anchorage school crosswalk guard David Wight, who proposed the idea to Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, in 2014. Meyer’s version of the ban passed the Senate but never got a hearing in the House.

It wasn’t revived in the 2015-2016 Legislature, but it returned in February this year under Birch, who represents one of two House districts in Meyer’s Senate district.

Birch said the bill is intended to meet the request of Wight, a constituent. Birch added that he thinks answering constituent needs is like “filling potholes,” and this bill is in that vein.

By phone, Birch said he attempted to pass such an ordinance while he served on the Anchorage Assembly but was told that wasn’t legal without Legislative action.

The bill passed the Legislature with wide support. It was approved unanimously in the Senate, and only Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, voted against it in the House.

Ordinarily, Alaska law prohibits boroughs and cities from approving ordinances that change traffic laws. HB 333 carves out an exemption from that law for cellphone bans in school zones.

The exemption doesn’t allow boroughs and cities to prohibit hands-free cellphone use, and it only covers someone driving a car. A borough or city can’t penalize you for talking on your cellphone while your car is parked, for example.

The bill was supported by the Anchorage School District and the American Automobile Association.

With the governor’s signature, HB 333 becomes effective immediately. Any prohibition against talking and driving will await the decision of local municipalities.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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