Florida texting and driving bill passes second committee vote

HB 33, SB 90 would make distracted driving primary offense

By Nadeen Yanes - Reporter, Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Legislation aimed at making distracted driving a primary offense in Florida cruised through its second subcommittee meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee.

A Florida Senate subcommittee overwhelming approved SB 90 one day after House Bill 33, a companion measure that would make it illegal to text while driving in the Sunshine State, passed with a unanimous vote in the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

With the latest vote legislators are on their way to driving change. News 6 has been working to get results and make Florida's roads safer for more than a year as part of our "Driving Change" initiative to make texting and driving a primary offense, instead of a secondary one, as it is now.

State Sen. Keith Perry, District 8, introduced the bill in the Senate transportation subcommittee before the vote in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers also heard from road safety activist Keyna Corey, of Florida’s Don’t Text and Drive coalition, a group that has been pushing for this change since 2013.

Florida’s Don’t Text and Drive coalition along with News 6 has been behind the scenes working with members of both the Florida House and Senate to show the importance of this bill.

Before Wednesday's Senate meeting even started Corey said she knew the bill had the votes.

“We (have) got to make our streets and highways safer and this is really the first step in doing that,” Corey said.

More than 40 people signed up to speak in support of the legislation Wednesday, including parents and friends of people killed in distracted driving crashes and businesses like AT&T.

"Through me, Patrick asks you to use your position of power for the purpose of the greater good, the safety of all," said a mother whose son was killed by a distracted driver. "You can prevent future deaths. You can protect innocent lives."

Florida State University Chief of Police David Perry spokes on behalf of the Florida Police Chiefs Association addressing concerns about racial profiling risks.

Last year, the same subcommittee killed a similar bill over concerns on how the change could lead to racial profiling. The updated bill this year includes language requiring officers to tell the driver they don't have to hand over their phone.

"Law enforcement agencies have had to adopt policies to prevent racial profile, as the incoming president I can tell you we focus on adopting fair policing," Perry said.

Perry said enforcing the law would be similar to what law enforcement faces on a daily basis.

The Senate transportation subcommittee unanimously passed SB 90 on Wednesday.

The two companion bills have to make it through several rounds of committee votes, three in the House and four in the Senate committees, before the companion bills are sent on for debate on the House and Senate floors. 

The two bills then have to be identical in language before Gov. Rick Scott signs the legislation into law.

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