What will Weatherford and Brandes do in wake of poll showing overwhelming support for ban on texting while driving?



Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford
  • Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford
Most polls have shown Americans (and Floridians) strongly supporting distracted driving legislation. That's never seen to make much of an impression on the members of the Florida Legislature — at least not the ones with the power to allow such legislation to get an up or down vote in Tallahassee.

Will that still be the case in 2013? Initial comments from leading state lawmakers haven't been encouraging in the wake of the latest bills proposed on the subject.

But will influential legislators like Will Weatherford and Jeff Brandes continue to trump individual rights over the collective safety of the public in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times poll released on New Years Day that shows 89 percent of those surveyed in Hillsborough and Pinellas County favor a ban on texting while driving?

Sarasota GOP state Sen. Nancy Detert has proposed legislation (SB 52) that seeks to ban texting, e-mailing and instant messaging for all drivers in Florida. But it's a secondary enforcement status law, meaning police need another reason to stop and cite violators, such as speeding or having a burned out headlight. It's one of five bills on distracted driving that's been introduced for the 2013 legislative session.

St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes will have enormous clout over the passage of any of these bills in his new role as chair of the state's transportation commission.

CL contacted Brandes the day he was awarded that assignment. At the time, he told us he believed the Legislature needed to study what's being done in other states (the majority of which have some sanctions against distracted driving). But he said he was skeptical of what he's seen and heard in other parts of the country, "In some instances, accidents have actually gone up because of these laws. Also I've seen where they're having a hard time enforcing these laws. So I think we need to be very careful about implementing these things, but we need to look at it."

House Speaker Will Weatherford from Wesley Chapel hasn't sounded too welcoming to any new legislation either, saying last year that while "elected officials have a responsibility to consider the safety of Floridians and also ensure drivers are safe on the roadways, equally as important as our safety are our individual rights, and in the case of texting while driving, there should be no exception.”

In addition to the recent Times poll, a statewide survey taken by the paper last January showed that 71 percent of those polled in the state wanted to ban texting while driving in the Sunshine State.

Florida remains one of the few states to have no such ordinances on the books, an issue CL examined in late November.

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