TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bereaved father begged Florida lawmakers Monday to use their power to make distracted driving a primary offense.
Lawmakers heard from people directly impacted by distracted driving during a House Government Accountability Committee workshop.
Public comments were made during the workshop by family members, state officials, police officials and lobbyists.
Monday's testimony will help the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, OPPAGA, formulate a report that will be delivered to state leaders in the next several months.
OPPAGA is a bipartisan part of the Legislature that “provides data, evaluative research, and objective analysis to assist legislative budget and policy deliberations," according to the group's website.
It’s too late for any bills to pass this session, but News 6 has been pursuing tougher distracted-driving laws after anchor Matt Austin was hit by a distracted driver last year.
“This nonpartisan legislative arm, preparing a report, shows you that pressure from both News 6 and the public has gotten the ball rolling,” Austin said.
One of the public comments was from Demetrius Branca, who lost his 19-year-old son in 2013 in a crash involving a distracted driver.
Branca said he was frustrated with lawmakers who are not willing to see how important distracted-driving laws are.
“Picking out a gravestone for your son will change your mind about how important this is,” Branca said. “Making funeral arrangements for your 19-year-old son will change your mind about how important this is.”
Branca told committee members that they have the power to change what happened to his son.
“You sit in offices that have prestige and that have influence,” he said. “I’m begging you, please do something about this before it’s someone else’s family. It’s too late. There are people who are gonna die today. Anthony may be alive if in 2013 we had decided to do a primary enforcement instead of this toothless secondary enforcement.”
[Watch Branca's full testimony below]
Branca’s testimony is part of an exploratory process for a state report to be released this summer to measure the effectiveness of texting laws in other states.
Last week, Iowa’s governor signed a bill into law moving texting and driving to a primary law from a secondary one. Florida is one of four states with a secondary enforcement law.