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Poll shows Floridians want texting ban; bill awaits next step

Ninety-five percent of respondents questioned in a poll released Thursday by the University of Florida would support a ban on texting while driving, but supporters are waiting to see if legislative attempts to get a law on the books pass the finish line this year.

“Ninety-five percent -- that’s pretty substantial. You don’t hear that often,” said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, who has been trying to get a texting while driving ban passed for five years. 

If passed this session, House Bill 13, would make texting while driving a secondary offense, which means police would have to pull a driver over for another offense, like swerving, then the driver would be cited for both offenses. Florida is one of only five states without any type of restriction on texting while driving.

The House and Senate bills seemed to have momentum, quickly passing two subcommittees, but they’ve yet to be scheduled for their last committee stop.

Holder said he “discussed the bill” with the chairman of the House Economic Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R- Panama City and expects it to come up shortly. “Everything looks good. I anticipate it will pass out of the House and Senate and we’ll enact a law this year.”

The past few years, the House has held up a texting while driving law because of a lack of support by  leadership, but House Speaker Will Weatherford said during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau  “I am not going to make anybody vote for it or make anybody pass it through but we’re not going to hold it up, and I think that’s probably the difference between now and the past.

“I’m pretty conservative when it comes to a lot of issues. Texting while driving for some folks, they think it’s an invasion of freedom," Weatherford also said. "I believe that someone’s freedom stops when you put someone else’s freedom at risk.”

The Senate’s bill, which Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice has sponsored for the past four years, was referred to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, March 7th but it hasn’t been put on the agenda yet.

Asked about the bill’s status on the committee, Lee said “I just don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on bills that are going to be heard or not heard,” adding it’s still ”very very early in the process.”

Lee said he would have preferred a tougher law, but he would “vote for the bill in in its present form.”. 

“In a perfect world a lot of us believe this ought to be a primary offense,” Lee said. “We ought to stand up and say what we mean. We’re kind of backing down in an unprincipled way because we’re trying to thread this needle with the House and certain parties that don’t want to see this become law.”

But “Sen. Detert’s worked hard on the bill,” Lee said. “I understand that sometimes you can’t let perfection become the enemy of the good."

Detert has said she doesn’t see the bill as watered down. “A parent will be able to tell their teenager ‘do not text and drive, it’s against the law.’ That kid is not going to pull down the Florida statutes and say ‘it’s only a secondary offense.’ "

Regarding the poll released by UF, "public support for this legislation is remarkable,” said Emma Humphries, assistant in citizenship with the Bob Graham Center said in a prepared statement. The poll was based on data collected from 371 surveys conducted March 1-17, with a 4.92 percent margin of error.