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Senate approves Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act

By a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Florida Senate passed a bill creating tougher penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a fatal accident.

The proposal (SB 102) is called the Aaron Cohen Act Life Protection Act, in memory of a Miami cyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2012. The driver, Michele Traverso, was sentenced to less than a year in jail.

Investigators found evidence that Traverso had been drinking before the accident. But because he took off, they were unable to know for sure.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said the proposed legislation was necessary because there is an incentive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of an accident.

"If you hit someone and kill them and leave, there is no minimum mandatory [sentence]," Diaz de la Portilla said. "If you hit someone and kill them and you are under the influence [of drugs or alcohol], there is a minimum mandatory [sentence]."

Diaz de la Portilla's bill creates mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of four years for a driver convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal crash. (That's the same mandatory minimum sentence for a person convicted of DUI manslaughter.)

The bill also imposes a minimum driver license revocation period of at least three years and driver education requirements for people who leave the scene of a crash.

The House version (HB 183) is awaiting a hearing in the Economic Affairs Committee. It has won unanimous support in its previous committee stops.

The bill is a top priority for the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, as well as Miami-Dade County and the city of South Miami. It has been prompted by a grassroots group of cyclists including Cohen's wife and close friends.

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