The House could give a final vote as early as today to a bill that would ban texting while driving, but a change made Tuesday could keep the bill from passing the Senate, reports Dave Royse of the News Service of Florida.
The measure (SB 52) had already passed the Senate, but on Tuesday the House voted 73-46 to add an amendment to the bill that would allow the billing records of drivers’ cell phones or other devices to be used to prosecute them for violations only if a death or injury has happened. That likely means anyone ticketed for a routine violation of the ban who went to court could avoid prosecution if there was no crash.
But it also could mean the bill won’t pass again in the Senate, which it would need to do because of the change. Opponents said the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Sen. Nancy Detert, isn’t in favor of the change, but also that in the time crunch between now and the scheduled Friday end of the session, the measure could easily die.
House backers of the amendment said there would be plenty of time for the Senate to pass the new version, return it to the House and for the House to again calendar it and vote it out.
And if that doesn’t happen, the sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Jose Oliva, said he’d bring the bill back next year.
“We don’t seek to do anything to this bill that guts it,” Oliva said.. “What we are doing is not trampling over our own rights to do it.”
Florida is one of only three states in the country that has no law of any kind against texting while driving. The bill would make texting while driving or otherwise using a wireless device a secondary offense, meaning police would only be able to ticket drivers if they’ve pulled them over for something else.
The ban, which would only apply to the driver, and not any passengers, has an exemption for when the car is stopped, such as at a stoplight.
There’s also an exception for use of a GPS device, or for reporting criminal behavior. The bill also allows talk-to-text technology to be used, as long as the driver isn’t typing or reading the message. In addition to texting, the bill includes reading or writing emails, or other messages.
The bill is on the House’s third reading calendar and is expected to come up for a vote Wednesday. It would then return to the Senate.