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Tougher texting-and-driving ban sails through Senate committee

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Legislation to make texting while driving a primary offense was passed Wednesday unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia sponsored the legislation (SB 144).

Florida was one of the later states in the country to adopt anti-texting laws, not doing so until 2013. But the fact that it’s a secondary offense has led critics to call the law toothless. Under Garcia’s bill, police could pull over drivers for texting while driving.

In the past, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that such legislation could allow law enforcement to profile black motorists racially.

“The current Florida ban on texting laws is almost impossible to enforce, and the general public knows this,” said Lake City Police Chief Argatha Gilmore, speaking as a representative of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “If texting while driving was made a primary offense, we believe it would deter this potentially deadly driving behavior.”

“As an industry, we lose between five and ten of our employees are killed nationwide by people who are distracted while driving,” said Charlie Latham, Florida Chair of the National Waste and Recycling Association.

Voting for the bill was Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who outed himself as a chronic abuser of texting while driving, adding that he’s always opposed such bills in the past because it represented another loss of personal freedom.

Baxley said that he didn’t believe texting was a problem per se, but distracted driving is.

There is a companion bill in the House sponsored by Democrat Emily Slosberg (HB 47).

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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