The Legislature can’t create an exception for Palm Beach County to make texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense there, Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office said in a recent letter.
The answer came in response to a question from state Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat elected last year. The informal legal opinion letter, dated Feb. 3, was part of an Attorney General’s Opinions Digest released Monday.
Slosberg wanted to know “whether the Legislature may provide express authority for the Palm Beach County Commission to pass an ordinance making ‘texting while driving’ in a school zone in Palm Beach County a primary offense.”
Nope, said Lagran Saunders, director of Bondi’s Opinions Division. It’s now a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to be pulled over for something else first.
“To enact legislation granting authority to Palm Beach County to solely enact an ordinance making texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense would be contrary to this express legislative intent of a uniform system of traffic regulation and would violate the Florida Constitution,” the letter said.
A December letter from the Palm Beach County Attorney’s Office gave the same opinion.
“It’s all subject to interpretation,” Slosberg said in a phone interview. “I understand the need for uniformity but the danger of putting a phone in the hands of an inexperienced driver is still a deadly combination.”
Emily Slosberg’s twin sister, Dori, died in a 1996 crash. Her father, former Rep. Irv Slosberg, long fought for mandatory seat belt laws and a texting-while-driving ban.
State law now makes it a secondary offense to view or send text messages while driving. That means a driver first needs to be pulled over for a different traffic infraction, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, before law enforcement can issue a texting and driving ticket.
Slosberg filed a bill this year (HB 47) to remove the secondary offense language and increase penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. But the legislation has not yet had a hearing.
Her persistence in pushing the measure has earned her the enmity of some in the Palm Beach Legislative Delegation.
State Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat whom the elder Slosberg unsuccessfully challenged in last year’s primary, in December said it wasn’t “a legal local bill, and there shouldn’t ever be any vote held on it.”
“She’s effectively killed her ability to work with anyone in the Legislature,” he added.
As Saunders said at the end of his letter, “You may wish to work with your colleagues in crafting legislation which will allow your concerns to be addressed throughout the state.”