Text-ban gutted, shelved, critics sayby John Kennedy | April 30th, 2013
A texting-while-driving ban hit a rough patch Tuesday after the Florida House agreed to sharply restrict law enforcement’s access to phone records.
The amendment, pushed by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, was approved 73-46. But many text-ban supporters said the timing of the provision threatens the bill as lawmakers race toward the legislative session’s scheduled Friday finish.
Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, also warned that the change in the bill (CS/SB 52) also would eliminate the possibility of prosecuting anyone for texting behind the wheel.
“From a policy standpoint, this really takes away the ability of the prosecutor to prove the case,” Waldman said.
Oliva’s amendment prohibits a motorist’s cell phone records from being used by prosecutors, except in a case involving a crash resulting in death or personal injury. The Senate approved the legislation two weeks ago on a 36-0 vote.
But with the session winding down, the bill – with the new House provision — must go back to the Senate for approval.
Oliva defended his amendment as aimed at safeguarding the rights of Floridians.
“It only speaks to civil liberties,” Oliva said. “It does nothing to the core functions of the law.”
Under the legislation, texting while driving would be a secondary offense. Motorists could be ticketed only if law enforcement officials stopped them for another reason.
A ticket could cost first-time offenders $30, plus court costs. But the bill includes exemptions allowing people to use phones to check maps, use voice-commands or listen to the radio through their phones.
Drivers also could text while stopped at a light, under the legislation. Talking on a cell phone would not be restricted.
Florida would become the 40th state in the nation with a text-while-driving ban, if the legislation resurfaces and is approved in the session’s closing days. Gov. Rick Scott has indicated he supports the ban.