Texting-while-driving ban now in jeopardy

Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, speaks out against the parental trigger bill on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives in this April 4, 2013 file photo. (AP)

Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 7:24 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — A bill banning texting and driving could be in jeopardy after the Florida House on Tuesday adopted a last-minute amendment limiting law enforcement’s ability to use phone records to identify violations.

In a 73-46 vote, the House approved the amendment from Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, a future House speaker, meaning the bill (SB 52) will have to return to the Senate after the House votes on it Wednesday.

The move stunned Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the Senate measure’s sponsor. Detert said the bill already had been toned down — including making texting while driving a secondary civil violation — to win acceptance in the House, which has never allowed even a committee vote on the measure before this year.

Detert said Oliva’s amendment, blocking police from using their subpoena power to acquire texting records except for accidents involving a death or personal injury, further weakens the bill. She said she will have to decide what to do once the bill returns to the Senate.

“Do we want the watered down, watered down version or nothing? That’s my choice,” Detert said. “It’s a very simple bill. It should have simply passed.”

Oliva, who had voted for the bill before in a House committee, said he had been concerned from the beginning about the legislation allowing access to private cell phone records. But he said he fully supported the bill and was not attempting a late-session maneuver to weaken or derail the legislation.

He said limiting police access to motorists’ texting records would protect the “civil liberties” of Floridians.

“This was my one concern about this bill,” Oliva said. “What we are doing is not trampling over our own rights in order to do it.”

Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, the House sponsor of the texting ban who has been trying for five years to pass the bill, appeared to reluctantly accept Oliva’s amendment.

“On a scale from 1 to 10, this is a friendly amendment at a 5.2,” Holder said.

Other lawmakers were outspoken about the amendment, questioning whether the House leadership ever intended to pass a bill since the measure has been available for a floor vote since April 4.

“I think it’s really about slowing down a life-saving bill in the last week of the session,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “It has been waiting and waiting to heard on the House floor for four weeks.

“I’m truly disappointed that we would make the poor choice of putting petty politics above public safety,” added Slosberg, who had led the fight to strengthen Florida’s seatbelt laws after an accident killed his daughter. “Too many young and innocent lives have been lost by a Legislature’s failure to pass a simple life-saving policy.”

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said blocking law enforcement from accessing the texting records would make the law largely unenforceable.

“The problem is without this ability you can’t prove a case,” he said. “You’re really taking away what you’re trying to do.”

Following the vote, Detert said she believed opponents of the legislation have been waiting for this maneuver in the final days of the annual session.

“I think that’s their strategy to send it back last minute,” Detert said. “I’ll either have something or nothing. They’re hoping I’ll take their watered down version. And I’ve not yet decided to do that.”

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top