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Emily Slosberg is helping feed those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Image via Colin Hackley.

Influence

House backs tougher texting-while-driving ban

The Florida House approved a measure Thursday that would allow law-enforcement officers to pull over motorists for texting while driving, despite concerns the bill could increase instances of racial profiling.

The House voted 112-2 to support the proposal (HB 33), which would make texting while driving a “primary” traffic offense, allowing officers to pull over motorists for texting.

It currently is a “secondary” offense, which means police can only write tickets for texting while driving when they stop motorists for other reasons, such as speeding.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has made a priority of the change, but a Senate version (SB 90) of the bill is stalled.

Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican who is the primary sponsor of the House bill, said that “despite all the other important issues that we are dealing with, we came together and worked together in a bipartisan fashion to save lives.”

Co-sponsor Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat whose twin sister, Dori, died in a car accident 22 years ago, said the change is needed. Currently, when police officers see someone texting while driving, she said they have to “wait for that 16-year-old driver to hit somebody, or run a red light, or kill somebody.”

To try to address concerns about racial profiling by police, the House and Senate versions require law-enforcement officers to record the race and ethnicity of each person pulled over for texting while driving.

Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, said he initially opposed the bill, but the data collection requirement eased his concerns.

“I represent a district where a lot of people look like me, and I do not want another reason to pull someone over that looks like me,” Shaw, who is black, said. “But the process works in this particular bill. There was a data collection component placed into the bill where we will be able to collect data and see whether there is a racial component to this and act accordingly.”

Both proposals would allow motorists to make phone calls on electronic devices. Also, the devices could be used for such things as getting directions.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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