Legislature puts brakes on bill requiring advanced notice of roadside memorial removal, relocation

Roadside memorial AP
The proposal died without a hearing this year.

Legislation to require that advance notice is given to families before the relocation or removal of a roadside memorial honoring a loved one went unheard this past Session.

Now, one of the measure’s sponsors is vowing to bring it back with improvements that should see it fare better next year.

The bill, dubbed the “Dori Slosberg, Carolina Gil Gallego, Margo Scher, Crystal Cordes and Ryan Rashidian Memorial Notification Act,” is named for five teens who died in a horrific car crash in Boca Raton on Feb. 23, 1996, and the memorial installed for them.

Last August, Palm Beach County road crews removed the memorial, consisting of four Christian crosses and a Jewish star, from Palmetto Park Road. After a week and a half of outcry and an admission by the county that the memorial was removed “in error,” crews reconstructed it.

But the incident highlighted a potential need for change, and Doral Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Highland Beach Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, both Republicans, filed twin bills (SB 572HB 421) to effectuate it.

If passed, either bill would have simply required government or private entities to “make best efforts” to tell anyone who installed a memorial and the loved one it commemorates that the memorial will soon be altered, dismantled, destroyed or removed.

Both bills died without a hearing.

Gossett-Seidman said the legislation was important for her district, but the issue became complicated, in part, because there are already state rules for roadside memorials that the measure would have needed to address, but didn’t.

Then there was a question of jurisdiction. The bills would have affected the policies of multiple government levels and agencies that may want to remove or move a memorial in the future.

Moreover, Gossett-Seidman said that when they were filed, the bills essentially addressed a single instance that turned out to have been a mistake. That doesn’t typically make for good legislation, she said.

But it turned out not to be an isolated incident. A memorial for a man who died in a motorcycle crash in Cape Coral vanished from the side of the road last year as well, WBBH reported in October. Two months later, while covering Rodriguez and Gossett-Seidman’s legislation, the outlet referenced an eerily similar memorial of five Fort Myers teens who died in a crash earlier that year.

But by the time they learned of the second incident, it was too late to retrofit their bill, Gossett-Seidman said.

She told Florida Politics Monday that she has already drafted new bill language and will work over the Summer with the Florida Department of Transportation and other agencies to refine it.

“Whereas I do not believe the roadside memorial bills were knee-jerk (reactions), it may have been perceived as such in the Legislature and with policy people,” she said. “However, the (second) memorial and some intersections with multiple memorials do exist, and (they) will be provided (for) in next year’s bill with photos and documentation.”

As some Florida historians know, the 1996 crash that inspired the Palm Beach memorial also led to a new safety belt law and, later, a law to reduce distracted driving across the state.

One of the memorial’s subjects, Dori Slosberg, was the daughter of former Democratic Rep. Irv Slosberg, who helped to establish the Dori Slosberg Highway Safety Foundation. In 2009, the organization was a driving force behind the passage of the Dori Slosberg and Kati Marchetti Safety Belt Law, which authorized police to pull drivers over for not wearing a seatbelt.

Ten years later, Irv Slosberg’s daughter, successor in the Legislature and Dori’s twin sister, Emily Slosberg-King, successfully sponsored a bill to enable police to pull drivers over for texting while driving.

Slosberg-King tried the following year to expand a law the Legislature approved in 2009 granting police authority to pull vehicles over if a driver, front-seat passenger or passengers under 18 were not wearing seat belts.

The measure (HB 179) died without a hearing and hasn’t been returned.

Rodriguez told Florida Politics in December that she hoped the bills she and Gossett-Seidman filed would prevent others from enduring the “great emotional distress” the memorial’s removal caused.

“I hope to prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future,” she said by text, “and allow loved ones of those being commemorated to emotionally prepare for the removal or alteration of roadside memorials.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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