State representative calls for special session to combat distracted driving

Plan is to get failed bill in front of the state House for special vote

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – State Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner asking for a special legislative session to vote on a new statewide distracted driving law.

“We have an epidemic on our roadways,” Slosberg said in a news release. “The most effective means of preventing needless pain and suffering on Florida’s roads is to enact legislation.”

Since joining the House in 2016, Slosberg has been one of the most vocal advocates in state government for a push to change Florida’s texting and driving law.

Her father, former state Rep. Irv Slosberg, was the main architect behind getting a mandatory seat-belt law passed in 2009. Both father and daughter have made safer roads a priority since Emily’s twin sister, Dori, died along with four other teens in a car accident in 1996. Emily Slosberg was also injured in that crash.

“This call for a special session to pass this critical legislation is an issue that should not have been compelled by those who have lost their children, their friends, their parents, a twin sister (on our roadways) or even supermajority of legislators,” Slosberg wrote in her letter to Detzner.

Florida is one of just four states that consider texting and driving a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement can only pull over drivers for texting if they witness the driver breaking another law.

“Almost every other state in the nation has passed this legislation and it is important that we all stand in solidarity and say, ‘No more texting while driving in Florida,’” Slosberg wrote. “Enough is enough.”

According to the CDC, on average, nine people die each day and more than 1,000 are injured because of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 3,450 people were killed in the U.S. in distracted-driving crashes in 2016, the latest statistics available. 

The Florida Highway Patrol recently released its own 2016 statistics. For the year, 235 people were killed in the state and 3,563 were injured. Florida had 49,231 distracted-driving crashes in 2016, over 10,000 more than were reported in 2013 (39,141). Orange County led the state in distracted-driving crashes in 2016 with more than 6,000; 1,200 more than the county with the second most crashes, which was Hillsborough.

“Driving is one of the most dangerous things we will ever do in our lives and until we realize that, we’ll continue to see lives being lost on our roads,” News 6 traffic safety expert Steve Montiero said.

Montiero patrolled Florida highways as a state trooper for eight years before joining News 6.

"The goal is to get from A to B safely. Driving is not a time to catch up with the ‘dos’ of life. The makeup, the lunch, the eating and the texting can wait,” Montiero said.

Last fall, both Slosberg and state Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) were sponsors of bills in their respective chambers aimed at making texting while driving a primary offense (HB 33 – Texting while Driving, and SB 90 – Use of Wireless Communications Devices While Driving).

HB 33 made it through all of its assigned committees, but SB 90 ran into a roadblock when state Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) refused to allow debate on the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bradley, who inherited the chair of the committee after State Sen. Jack Latvala’s resignation, cited concerns over privacy and possible abusive treatment of minorities as reasons for his opposition to the bill.  

“Safety has to become a priority of the state,” Slosberg told News 6. “This is an issue that’s important to every Floridian and our guests.”

The call for a vote for a special session is unusual, but not unprecedented. It can occur in several different ways. First, the governor can call a special session. Second, if both the House speaker (Richard Corcoran R-Land O’Lakes) and the Senate president (Joe Negron R-Stuart) agree to it, together they can call a special session. 

And then there’s a third way.

“I’m using a rarely used part of our State Constitution,” Slosberg said. “Under the provisions of Article III, Section 3(c)(2) of the Florida Constitution and Section 11.011(2) of Florida Statutes, members of the state legislature can initiate steps to call for a special session.”

Here’s how that shakes out: After Slosberg’s letter, 31 other representatives or senators need to write similar letters to the secretary of state. If the secretary receives 32 letters, (each calling for a special session on a particular subject), he is then mandated to take a poll of the full Senate (40 members) and House (120 members) asking if they want to come back for a vote on the subject. If the secretary gets three-fifths of each chamber to agree (24 senators and 75 representatives), a special session would then have to be scheduled.

“I think Rep. Slosberg is going to be very lonely in Tallahassee,” said News 6 political analyst Dr. Jim Clark. “There is no way the Legislature wants to come back with an election approaching. There would be pressure from every interest group for legislation on other subjects--perhaps even reopening the gun control debate. I doubt that even her fellow Democrats will want part of this.”

“There’s no downside to this. Who doesn’t want to vote for safer roads?” Slosberg said. “When it was about making seat belt use a primary law, it was a conscious decision for a driver or passenger to put that seat belt on or leave it off. This is different. This affects everybody. You can be minding your own business and someone texting and driving could change your life forever.”

About the Author:

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