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Closely-divided House OKs 75 mph speed limit

By a 58-56 margin, the Florida House on Wednesday passed a bill that would raise the speed limit from 70 to 75 miles per hour on most interstate highways. A supporter called for the vote to be reconsidered, which briefly put passage in doubt. But Republicans said that maneuver occurred too late for the bill to be brought back for a second vote.

Democrats were nearly united in opposition as 39 of 45 members of the House Democratic Caucus opposed the bill, along with 17 Republicans.

Under the bill (SB 392), the state Department of Transportation would have to determine whether 75 is the "safe and advisable" minimum speed on Florida's Turnpike, I-75, I-10, I-95, I-4 and the Suncoast Parkway. Florida would be the first urban state east of the Mississippi to allow drivers to travel at 75 miles per hour (a rural section of northern Maine also has a 75 mph limit).

The bill passed the Senate on a 27-11 margin last week.

The House vote -- the closest of any issue in the 2014 session -- would send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott, who has not expressed a view on it, but a leading advocate in the Senate, Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, says he expects Scott will sign the bill if it gets there.

Of the 16 House members from the Tampa Bay region, seven voted yes, eight voted no and one did not vote. House members were sharply divided in debate, with supporters emphasizing that the bill merely gives DOT's engineers the discretion to increase the speed limit, and opponents predicting that motorists would drive faster and more recklessly, resulting in more highway fatalities.

"People are going to die if we do this," said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth.

"Let the old retired cop talk to you one more time," said Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, a retired sheriff's deputy. "None of my people in law enforcement want this to pass."

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, said opponents were overreacting to a bill that simply gave transportation experts more authority. "We're finding a bogeyman in the details that doesn't even exist," Patronis said.