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Watered-down ban on texting and driving on its way to Gov. Scott

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

It could soon be against the law to text and drive under a diluted ban on its way to Gov. Rick Scott.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, asked her colleagues to support the House version of the bill (SB 52) despite a provision that prohibits a motorist’s cell phone records being used by prosecutors except in cases involving a crash resulting in death or personal injury. The Senate passed the measure with a 39-1 vote, with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, casting the only “no” vote.

For three years, the Florida House has refused to sign off on the texting and driving ban.
“For the first time ever they have a speaker over there that allowed them to speak on this bill. That was the good news. The bad news was I didn’t like what they said,” Detert said this afternoon.

Critics of the modified bill say it will make it harder for law enforcement to prove drivers were texting. The measure makes texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for something else in order to get a ticket for texting.

Drivers who do get ticketed for texting can voluntarily bring their own records to court to prove they weren’t breaking the law, Detert said.

“And frankly they probably won’t do that over a $30 ticket,” she said.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, asked if the amendment regarding the phone records “doesn’t take all the meat and potatoes” out of the bill, approved unanimously in its original version by the Senate earlier in the session.

But Detert said it was better to pass the ban instead of changing it and sending it back to the House where it could risk languishing before the session ends tomorrow.

“Basically this bill is still a good bill. It still will allow parents today to say to their kids don’t text while driving it’s against the law,” Detert said. “It really will save lives and it boils down to it’s either against the law or not.”

Without speaker’s opposition, House panel considers text ban

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A House committee heard experts Tuesday warn about the dangers of distracted driving — with tales of motorists changing CDs, putting on makeup, or grabbing a Smartphone to send a text message, the target for Florida legislation.


But two hours worth of testimony, which included statistical support showing that texting takes drivers’ eyes off the road — leading to inadvertent lane changes and collisions — left Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, feeling pretty good. After 10 years of inaction, Holder said this could be the year lawmakers approve a ban.

“We had really different priorities,” Holder said, looking back on at least part of the past decade, where dozens of bill limiting cell-phone use or texting while driving were introduced each year and failed.

“I think this year is certainly the year,” he added. “We’ve always recognized it’s common sense legislation. It’s a no-brainer to have a law.”

Holder concluded, “Making texting illegal while driving will save lives in Florida.”

Then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, blocked attempts last year to have a texting ban heard, after the measure was OK’d by the state Senate.

But Cannon left the House in November due to term limits. Supporters say his departure may help clear the way for Florida to become the nation’s 40th state to prohibit drivers from texting.

Last year,  Holder’s legislation didn’t get a hearing in the House. But Tuesday, the House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee took testimony from law enforcement, traffic safety advocates, AARP, a high school student leader, and even a University of West Florida psychologist.

Each concluded that banning texting behind the wheel was worthwhile.

Chicagoan Jennifer Smith, who became a nationwide advocate for a texting ban after her mother was killed in 2008 by a distracted driver, said merely trying to warn people against the dangers of a ban was useless. Motorists will continue the practice, unless it’s made illegal, she said.

“I don’t know how much more education we can give people – and it’s still a problem,” Smith told the panel.

Steven Kass, the UWF psychologist, said texting leads people to weave into other lanes, take longer to brake, and drive more slowly than surrounding traffic. He said statistics show cell-phone use and even hands-free phoning also impair driving, although most lawmakers seem wary to extend a proposed ban that far.

“Anytime you add more than one task, performance degrades on one or more of the tasks,” Kass said.

Holder and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, have proposed identical measures (SB 52, HB 13) that would make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning motorists could be ticketed only if law-enforcement officials had stopped them for another reason.

A ticket could cost first-time offenders $30, plus court costs. But the bills also include exemptions allowing people to use phones to check maps, use voice-commands or listen to the radio through the phone.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is sponsoring legislation (SB 74) that would make texting or using a cellphone without a hands-free device a primary offense for motorists.

Detert’s bill has already been modified to allow for texting if a motorist is stopped at a light or stuck in traffic. Holder said Tuesday he’s open to similar changes if it gets a text-ban through the full Legislature this spring.


Could ’13 be the year for a texting ban in Fla?

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 by John Kennedy

More than a decade since Florida lawmakers first called for limits on motorist cellphone use, advocates say a ban on texting behind the wheel may soon win approval.

Despite dozens of bills since 2002, no restriction on motorist cellphone use or texting ever has cleared the Florida Legislature, but 2013 could be different.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, blocked attempts in 2012 to have a texting ban heard, after the measure was OK’d by the state Senate. But Cannon left the House in November due to term limits. Supporters say his departure may help clear the way for Florida to become the nation’s 40th state to prohibit all drivers from texting.

“The public has been screaming for it,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

Story here:

Steinberg quits House following ‘sexxxy momma’ texts

Friday, February 24th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Rep. Richard Steinberg, a Miami Beach Democrat, resigned Friday, two days after admitting  he harassed a married Miami prosector with anonymous text messages, at least one calling her ‘sexxxy momma.’

Steinberg, a former Miami Beach city commissioner first elected to the House in 2008, apologized and said he was quitting to “attend to my family’s personal affairs.”

“The events of the past week have been difficult for my family, for me and for everyone involved,” Steinberg said in a statement. “After much consultation with my family, my friends and my colleagues in the Democratic caucus—and after some time for quiet, personal reflection—I have decided to resign from my position, effective today, as a member of Florida’s House of Representatives.


“With the support of my family, my friends and my colleagues, I will remain home to attend to my and my family’s personal affairs.  As I did earlier this week, I want to once again, very directly and sincerely, apologize to everyone I have hurt.  I hope that you will respect my and my family’s privacy.

Federal agents tied Steinberg to messages sent for more than three months last year to Assistant U.S. Attorney Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos. The messages were sent under the screen name “itsjustme24680.″

No charges have been filed.  But after the Miami Herald reported that federal documents had been made public in the case, Steinberg left the House to return to Miami.

Just hours before he left, Steinberg had been an outspoken opponent of a bill critics say is aimed at allowing prayer in public schools.

Senate advances text-while-driving ban — on road to dead end in House

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A push to ban texting-while-driving cleared a Senate budget panel Thursday, but it’s looking likely headed toward a dead end in the Florida House.

The measure (CS/SB 416) would make texting a secondary offense, allowing law enforcement to issue citations only if drivers were pulled over for another offense.

“I’m certainly not on infringing on anyone’s personal freedom, as long as it’s not affecting the person next to you,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who is sponsoring the legislation. “I’d like to get this done before there’s a tragedy where someone takes out all the kids at a bus stop and then the public is screaming, ‘Why didn’t you do something about it.’

“This is the opportunity to do something about it,” she said.

The proposal would impose a $30 fine for a first violation. A second offense within five years would force a $60 fine and 3 points added to a motorist’s license. Six points would be tacked on if using the device contributed to a crash.

Detert’s bill was approved 14-1 by the Senate’s budget subcommittee on transportation, tourism and economic development. The lone opponent was Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, who killed a similar texting proposal two years ago, while a House committee chair.

The House this year again looks poised to end talk of text bans. House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, told the Post last month that he was wary of adding “one more layer of prohibitive behavior,” in Florida.

At the time, Cannon said, “I’ve heard evidence that eating fast food, or men fixing their ties, or women fixing their makeup, or talking to screaming kids in the back of the van — as I’ve done from time to time — is just as distracting, perhaps more so, than sending someone a text message.”

The National Transportation Safety Board last month called for states to enact a ban on non-emergency phone calls and texting by all drivers.  About 35 states ban text messaging while driving, 30 states ban cell-phone use by novice drivers, and 10 ban all use of hand-held phones, according to the NTSB.

But Cannon said he and many in Florida’s conservative, Republican-dominated Legislature are wary of steps aimed at “government-regulating private behavior.”

Some kind of ban on hand-held devices behind the wheel — usually aimed at minors — has been proposed in every regular session of the Florida Legislature since 2002. The bills have been filed by both Democrats and Republicans.

Last session, more than a dozen such bills were filed in Tallahassee — but none cleared the Legislature.

Detert said there are plenty of alternatives to texting behind the wheel. She uses a voice-to-text system for sending messages when driving. And her bill does nothing to restrict cell phone use, she added.

“I’ve tried to draw this bill as narrowly as we possibly can,” Detert said.

Negron sez no 2 ‘Dnt txt n drv’ bill

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Texting while driving would be a new moving violation under a bill approved by a Senate committee this morning over the objections of Sen. Joe Negron, who said distracted drivers can already be punished under existing law.

Negron cast the sole “no” vote on the measure (SB 416) which would make texting and driving a secondary offense – meaning police could not ticket drivers unless they are pulled over for another reason – punishable by a minimum $30 fine and a six-point drivers license violation if it results results in an accident.

Florida law already includes a reckless driving – which carries a minimum $25 fine and can result in prison sentences –moving violation, which should cover problematic texting, Negron argued. That means law enforcement officers can now pull over “someone weaving down the road while they’re texting” and give them a ticket, said Negron, a lawyer.

And it would be difficult for authorities to determine if someone texting just because they are using an electronic device, Negron said.

“What if I was just looking at my Blackberry to get the address of where I’m driving to. Is that texting because I punched a number and something came up for me to read? What about navigation devices? To me there are legitimate uses of electronic device while you’re driving. Texting is not one of them,” Negron said.

The bill is based on a sample law provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, encouraging states to enact legislation to ban texting and driving. The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee approved the measure, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, by a 12-1 vote this morning.

Negron said lawmakers need to be careful before creating new crimes, which he said they have done too often in the past.

“I think if we would simply enforce the careless driving law that we already have that that would send a message to stop that,” he said.

Crist gives green light to ban on texting while driving

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist wants to ban texting and driving, joining a movement already underway to force drivers to forgo messaging while they’re behind the wheel.

“I think it would provide some safety for our people,” Crist told Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Julie Jones.

Jones’ legislative proposals didn’t include the ban, already sought by several lawmakers who vow passage of a ban during next year’s legislative session.

She said she’d add it to her list along with a request to beef up the state’s aggressive driving laws which no carry no penalty.

Florida law now identifies “aggressive drivers” as those who break two laws simultaneously, for example tailgating while speeding.

But there’s no additional penalty for being an aggressive driver and there’s no special identifier tagging the miscreants.

Jones wants lawmakers to change that and also force the aggressive drivers to attend drivers’ school.

Some folks might not like that, observed Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

“I bet your insurance company’s not going to like it either,” she said.

KEp ur hands on th whEl

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida lawmakers have jumped on the bandwagon to stop driving-while-texting in response to a national report that found that the high-tech distraction contributed to 6,000 deaths on the road last year.

State Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, filed a bill that would ban drivers from texting on cell phones and other hand-held devices while behind the wheel.

“Sending text messages or emails while driving places both the driver and those on the road around them in danger,” Altman said in a press release. “We need additional highway safety laws in place to address the growing use of mobile devices while driving.”

There’s nothing currently on the books to stop drivers from using cell phones while they’re behind the wheel. But Altman’s bill would ban reading, typing and sending e-mails or texts while driving. Eighteen other states already have similar laws in place and Congress is considering a similar ban.

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