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Emily Slosberg at odds with Palm Beach legislative delegation over local texting while driving bills

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Rep. Emily Slosberg is following in her father’s footsteps, and that might not be a good thing.

Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, appears to already be at odds with members of the Palm Beach County legislative delegation after a kerfuffle during the recent delegation meeting. At issue: Local bills that would have allowed Palm Beach County Commission to institute stricter texting while driving laws than elsewhere in the state.

Slosberg, who said she was denied the chance to put her local bills on the agenda, fired off a news release after the meeting taking aim at Sen. Bobby Powell, the Riviera Beach Democrat and chairman of the delegation.

In that release, she said she was “forced to present her bill during public testimony” and that the delegation tried to adjourn before her testimony. She also claimed Powell “refused to hear the bill because (she) had the votes to pass the bill.”

In a message Wednesday, Powell said the local bills were taken off the “agenda after a discussion with Slosberg last Thursday.” The delegation meeting was Dec. 19.

“It’s not a legal local bill, and there shouldn’t ever be any vote held on it. It doesn’t fit the category of what a local bill should be,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat. “This is simply an attempt to garner publicity for a pet cause in a way that allows them to appear they’re doing the right thing, when actually they’re unnecessarily dragging Bobby’s name through the mud.”

Two bills have already been filed in the Florida House aimed at strengthening the state’s texting while driving ban.

The first — House Bill 47, sponsored by Rep. Richard Stark and Slosberg — removes language from state law that makes texting while driving a secondary offense, and increase penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. The second bill — House Bill 69, sponsored by Slosberg — would texting while driving a primary offense for juvenile drivers.

Slosberg wanted to take it one step further, drafting local bills to give the county commission the authority to pass an ordinance prohibiting texting and driving in school zones and making it a primary offense. It is currently a secondary offense.

There’s just one problem: Local bills can’t substantially alter a law of general application throughout the state. And according to an opinion issued by the Palm Beach County county attorney, Slosberg’s local bills would do just that.

“According to statute, traffic laws shall be uniform throughout the state, including all political subdivisions and municipalities therein, and no local authority shall enact an ordinance on a matter covered by this statute unless expressly authorized,” wrote Dawn Wynn, the senior assistant county attorney, in an opinion issued Wednesday. “The local bills which were submitted on this subject would create an exception to the statute and would be a major change in state uniform traffic control policy.”

But Slosberg’s decision to propose the local bills isn’t what seems to be bothering members. Instead, it appears to be the way she handled herself — feigning ignorance when many believe she knew the bill wouldn’t be heard and choosing to go after Powell — that’s rubbing them the wrong way.

“Anyone could make mistakes, but she was informed it was improper and still chose to make a big deal about it,” said Clemens.

Traffic safety has been a personal issue for Slosberg and her family. In 1996, she was in a car accident that killed five teenagers, including her twin sister. Her father, Irv Slosberg, ran for office a few years after the accident, serving in the House from 2000 until 2006 and again from 2010 to 2016.

The elder Slosberg challenged Clemens in Senate District 31 earlier this year, but lost when he received just 32 percent of the vote.

The former state representative earned a reputation during his time in the House as a prickly member who could be difficult to work with. He occasionally railed against members during floor debates, and his bills often stalled early in the process.

During the 2016 legislative session, just one bill cleared the House floor before dying in the Florida Senate. Records show his remaining bills didn’t make it out of committee. And that pattern was similar to prior years; in 2015, for example, all but one his bills died in its first committee of reference.

While it’s too early to say whether Rep. Emily Slosberg’s legislation will face the same fate, her actions appear to some of her colleagues questioning how well she can work with others.

“She’s effectively killed her ability to work with anyone in the Legislature,” said Clemens.

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