Florida texting and driving bill stalls in Senate; where does that leave Florida drivers?

Lawmakers table vote on SB 76 Wednesday

A bill that would make distracted driving a primary offense has been tabled in the Florida Senate.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After the expected vote by the state Senate to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on a stricter texting and driving law was postponed Wednesday Florida will have to wait another day.

No official reason was given for the putting off the vote, but it’s clear the delay is most likely tied to the fact the Senate and the House have two very different views --and two very different bills -- as the 2019 Florida Legislative session is drawing to a close.

On Tuesday, the House passed its version of a stricter texting and driving bill by a vote on 104-9. The House bill would take texting and driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense. Secondary enforcement means an officer has to witness a driver breaking another law in order to write a ticket for texting and driving. Primary offense means the officer can pull a driver over solely for texting and driving. Florida, along with Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota, are the only states in the country that treat texting and driving as a secondary offense.

On the Senate side, SB 76 was scheduled to be voted on today, but was pulled at the last minute. While HB 107 would make texting and driving a primary offense, SB 76 goes much further and would turn Florida into a hands-free state.

“A bill needs to be identical to the other Chamber’s bill or amended to be identical for final passage,” says Keyna Cory of the FL DNT TXT N DRV Coalition. As of Wednesday afternoon, Cory says “No amendments have been filed.”

So where does that leave Floridians?

As of now here are the options:

•    The House bill goes to the Senate and is substituted for SB 76 and they pass that bill.

•    The House bill goes to the Senate and Senate puts SB 76 on it and sends it back to the House.

•    The Senate passes their version of the bill (SB 76) and there are two very different bills passed by each chamber leading to no bill being sent to the governor.

“This is the process,” Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) told News 6 Wednesday afternoon. “If we’re not open to it, that’s how things don’t get done. We’re open to suggestions and ideals. We don’t have any pride of authorship on these things.”

Florida Secretary of Transportation Kevin Thibault told reporters on the steps of Florida's Capitol when he was appointed by DeSantis he was told safety should be the No. 1 priority.

When News 6 asked if DeSantis would sign either version of the bill if it ended up on his desk, Thibault said, “I haven’t had a chance to talk to the governor because as you hear a lot of things can change as the bills get moved along."

Port Richey resident Steve Augello, whose daughter was killed in a distracted driving crash, has been driving to Tallahassee every session to try and prevent any more lives being put at risk because of distracted drivers.

“I’ve been coming to Tallahassee for 10 years to try and get a texting bill passed,” said Augello, “I don’t want to keep coming back. It’s getting old now.” 

In 2008, Augello’s teenage daughter Alessandra, was killed by another teenager who was texting on her cellphone when her car drifted over the centerline. 

Although Augello thought Florida’s 2013 texting and driving law was a start, describing it as “something, but not very much.” He said Florida needs a stronger law. 

“We really need this law," he said. "Please, I’m asking you to pray.”

The Senate will meet again on Thursday morning at 10 a.m. No word as of yet as to whether or not SB 76 will be on the agenda for a vote.

About the Authors:

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise

Emmy Award-winning anchor Matt Austin joined the News 6 team in June 2011 and has been the evening news co-anchor since December 2013.