Lawmakers progress towards texting and driving legislation

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
December 6,2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Police may soon be able to stop drivers if they are seen texting while behind the wheel.

Currently, an officer must witness another violation before conducting a traffic stop. But now, new legislation is getting a major boost from the House Speaker, who has previously opposed the idea.

Removing the words "secondary offense" from the state's anti-texting law has been an uphill battle. The deletion was routinely blocked by House leadership, who wouldn't even consider the idea because of privacy concerns.

Now, they've had a change of heart.

"So, we say if you want to look at someone's phone, you've got to get a warrant," said Representative Richard Corcoran, the House Speaker. "You can't confiscate their phone. You can't intimidate them to voluntarily give you their phone."

Demetrius Branca has spent the last three years talking to high school students and fighting for tougher laws. His son, Anthony, was killed in 2014 by a driver who was texting.

Demetrius says he's surprised, but thrilled, by the House's change of heart.

"Better late than never," he said, "But they recognize the dangers of it and they're finally doing something about it."

But, opposition remains. Concerns about increased racial profiling still must be worked out.

Black lawmakers are worried the bill will open the door for more racial profiling. They raised the same concerns when seat belts were the issue.

Senator Audrey Gibson says one way to avoid profiling is to require hands-free cell phone use, saying "If we have hands free, then there's no question and there's no issue."

Demetrius says he shares the profiling concerns, but also says there's a bigger picture.

"Racial profiling is real and it's something we need to be on guard for, but people are dying on the streets," he said. "People are dying because other people are not paying attention to the road."

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