By Andrew Caplan
The Florida Legislature’s 2018 session is just a few days underway and stopping people from texting and driving seems to be a high priority.
A bill, filed by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, unanimously passed the Senate’s Transportation Committee Wednesday with a 5-0 vote. The bill already passed the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee 7-1 in October 2017 and has two more committees to pass before voted on by the full Senate.
The legislation, SB 90, would put stricter regulations on texting and driving by making the action a primary offense. It would allow law enforcement to stop drivers and cite them for violations.
Florida is one of four states that make texting and driving a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement can only pull drivers over for another traffic infraction, such as a busted tail light, before issuing a ticket for texting.
Perry, whose district represents Alachua and Putnam counties and parts of Marion County, said Wednesday that he previously pushed the bill, but with little success.
“This is something we’ve been fighting for years, years and years,” he said. “I feel pretty good about the possibility about getting that passed.”
The bill also requires law enforcement to inform a person who is stopped for the infraction that they have the right to decline a search of his or her wireless device. If passed, in its current form, fines for violations will deposited into the state’s emergency medical services trust fund.
Perry has submitted 38 other bills this legislative session, including one that could make obtaining public records a bit more cost effective for individuals and entities.
The bill, SB 750, would prevent an agency from filing a civil action lawsuit against the person requesting records and would prevent that person from being responsible for legal fees if they win a lawsuit to obtain documents.
The bill passed the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee Wednesday 5-1 and has two more committees before heading to the Senate floor.
The First Amendment Foundation supports the public records bill and plans to offer a letter of endorsement soon.
“I think Senate Bill 750 is one of the best Senate bills to be proposed in a long time,” said Barbara Petersen, the foundation’s president. “What this does is, it protects people who make public records request.”
Instead of going to court, she said, people in Florida have the option to attend a free Open Government Mediation program offered by the state’s attorney general’s office, though few know about it. The mediation is nonbinding and both parties have to agree to attend.
Perry said he doesn’t understand why a municipality or other government agency wouldn’t use the resource.
“We don’t want government agencies not complying with the Sunshine Law by suing the citizens,” he said.