Jan 25, 2011

The following article was published by THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA on January 25, 2011:

SenateTrans Chair Puts Brakes on Most Driving Bills


Transportation safety advocates laid out an ambitious agenda Tuesday that included calls for stricter penalties on motorists who hit bicycle and motorcycle riders, refuse to take breathalyzer tests when suspected of driving under the influence, and booster seat requirements for older children.

But the chairman of the Senate committee that those measures would all likely have to go through pumped the brakes on all but one Tuesday, saying that there only seemed to consensus on his panel for a measure that would ban texting while driving for teenagers only.

After lengthy presentations Tuesday from AAA Auto Club South, the Florida Bicycle Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and ABATE of Florida, Sen. Jack Latvala, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, conducted a very quick survey of the seven-member panel to see whether any members opposed the ideas.

If anyone signaled that they did by simply shaking their head, Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, took it off the table. When he was done, only one proposal – the teenage texting ban – was left.

“I had intended to kind of put out some concepts and kind of try to get a consensus of which of these issues the committee would like to get involved in,” he said.

“Sort of maybe a nod of the head if anybody needs to think we need to deal with that,” he said as he brought up the first proposal: graduated driver’s licenses for teenagers.

“No clear consensus on that. OK,” Latvala concluded before quickly moved onto the next bill: the booster seat bill, on which he made almost exactly the same pronouncement.

Latvala ruled favorably on the ban on teenagers texting while driving, but he decided there was not clear support for bans that went further.

The decision came despite pleas from a number of safety advocates.

MADD Florida spoke in favor of requiring breath tests for suspected drunk drivers.

“Currently, under Florida law an individual can refuse the breath test after a lawful stop,” said MADD Florida Executive Director Todd Rosenbaum. “So we have disincentivized individuals to cooperate with law enforcement.”

But Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Tampa, said Floridians have a right to say no.

“I’m a teetotaler, so I’m not afraid of taking a DUI, but I have the right to refuse to blow,” she said.
MADD also pressed lawmakers to consider a requirement that ignition interlocks be placed on vehicles of first time DUI offenders. The devices use a computer to test a driver’s blood-alcohol level before it lets them start the engine. But that too was a non-starter with the Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Similarly, Lauren Hallam, executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association, told the panel it should take a serious look at penalties for drivers who strike bicycle riders.

“Usually you like to be number one, but Florida unfortunately generally is number one in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities,” she said. “When people get killed, we get very, very angry and we want to do something about it.”

Hallam seemed to draw some sympathy from Latvala, though he later did not include any of her proposals in the list of bills likely to be taken up by his committee.

Long-time motorcycle lobbyist James “Doc” Reichenbach II of the motorcycle rider advocacy group ABATE told the committee that the penalties for people who hit motorcyclists are also too lenient. He told the panel about a member of his group that was killed, and her husband seriously injured.

“He got an $82 fine,” Reichenbach said. “This is happening quite a bit..”