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FL Lawmaker Wants to Make Leaving Kids in Cars Illegal

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Deb via Flickr creative commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A state lawmaker wants to make it illegal to leave young children unattended in a car for any length of time in Florida.  The proposal, from Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, is an effort to combat the problem of children dying from heat exposure after being left in a vehicle.

Currently, Florida law allows kids to be unattended in cars if the vehicles are turned off for up to 15 minutes. The non-profit advocacy group says on a 90-degree day, the inside of a vehicle can reach a dangerous 114 degrees in 15 minutes.  Rep. Slosberg’s proposed bill would prevent children six-years-old and under from being left unattended in a vehicle for any period of time. Rep. Slosberg said a story from the mayor of Coral Springs brought the issue to her attention.

“He was parked outside a sporting goods store and he saw a child unattended in a car and it was like 100 degrees outside,” said Rep. Slosberg.

“So he called the police, but there’s nothing the police could do for up to 15 minutes. The child had no water.  So the police literally had to wait 15 minutes before they could go in and remove the child from the hot car.”

Under the bill, a first offense would be a second-degree misdemeanor and subsequent violations would be felonies.  Given that Florida did not make seatbelt violations a primary offense until 2009, and that the legislature still has not made texting while driving a primary offense, Slosberg expects an uphill battle passing her bill in the 2018 session.  Slosberg anticipates formally filing the bill in the next couple of weeks.  She’s still looking for a lawmaker to sponsor the measure in the state senate. 

At the national level, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, and Al Franken, D-MN, recently introduced the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (S. 1666), that would give the U.S. Department of Transportation two years to come up with a final rule requiring new vehicles to be equipped with alert systems to remind parents to check their rear seats. Similar legislation in the U.S. House was introduced in June by Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, and Rep. Peter King, R-NY.  That measure has received widespread support.  Across the country, 30 children have died this year after being left in hot cars.

Rep. Slosberg is also sponsoring a bill next year to make texting while driving a primary offense in Florida.  That would mean law enforcement officers could pull someone over simply for texting while driving.  Currently, Florida is just one of four states where texting while driving is a secondary offense.

“A study came out showing that 92 percent of Floridians text while driving,” said Rep. Slosberg.  “It’s unbelievable.  We have the highest rate in the country.  We’re number one.  It’s just become the culture of the state, but it’s causing death and it’s setting bad examples for children.”

Rep. Slosberg sponsored a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense in the 2017 state legislative session, but the proposal died in committee.  This year, Rep. Slosberg is on a statewide campaign urging each of Florida’s 67 county governments to adopt resolutions urging the state legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense.  Her proposed resolution is on the agenda for consideration by the Glade County Commission at their Aug. 8 meeting at 9:00 a.m.

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John Davis has been a full-time Reporter/Producer for WGCU since 2009. He is the local host for NPRââââ