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The House Is Trying to Pass Tougher Texting And Driving Laws. They Could Stall In The Senate

In this file photo, a man uses his cellphone as he drives through traffic.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida House is expected Thursday to approve a measure that would allow law-enforcement officers to pull over people for texting while driving, but the brakes have been applied in the Senate.

Senate sponsor Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said Wednesday he continues to push for the measure (SB 90), though Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley has indicated the proposal likely won’t appear in the Appropriations Committee before the legislative session ends next week.

“All I can do is push as hard as I can on getting stuff done,” Perry said.

Perry said “legitimate” concerns have been expressed by Bradley and others that the bill could potentially be abused, but those negatives shouldn’t outweigh the intent, which is to reduce distracted driving and crashes.

The House proposal (HB 33), which was positioned Wednesday for a vote, would make texting while driving a “primary” traffic offense, allowing officers to pull over motorists for texting. It is currently a “secondary” offense, which means police can only write tickets for texting while driving when they stop motorists for other reasons, such as speeding.

The bill would allow motorists to make phone calls on electronic devices. Also, the devices could be used for such things as getting directions.

The idea of making texting while driving a primary offense has been around for years. But it gained momentum during this year’s legislative session when House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, came out in support. Gov. Rick Scott has also voiced opposition to texting and driving.

Some lawmakers, however, have raised concerns that the bill could increase the chances that minorities will be racially profiled.

Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, asked House sponsors Wednesday if they have they considered “unintended consequences.”

“This particular bill that you are running, giving officers another reason to pull folks over, regardless of whether they actually committed a current traffic infraction --- as far as failing to maintain a lane, speeding, running a red light, their tag is correct --- this gives them another reason to pull people over,” Jacquet said.

To try to address concerns about racial profiling, the House and Senate versions would require law-enforcement officers to record the race and ethnicity of each person pulled over for texting while driving.

Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican who is a primary sponsor, said recording the information is intended to allow people to track if racial profiling is occurring.

“If that problem does occur, it depends upon whether it’s isolated to one city or county, and then we’ll talk to that sheriff or police chief and get that problem rectified,” Toledo said. “But texting and driving doesn’t discriminate. Everyone does it.”

Toledo added that law-enforcement officers will be trained to discern if motorists are texting or using cell phones or other handheld device for such things as phone calls.

“We’ve spoken extensively with law enforcement,” added co-sponsor Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “There is a big difference between a driver who makes a few clicks on a phone or dials a few numbers than going down the road with a cellphone in their hands, typing a novel, not looking anywhere at the road, but right down at their phone.”

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