New texting and driving legislation moving forward despite concerns over racial profiling

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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
January 23, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Police being able to stop you for texting while driving, without first observing another violation, is one step closer to becoming law in Florida. But, African American lawmakers worry the change could open the door to harassment by police.

State Senator Bobby Powell (D - West Palm Beach) used to be a police dispatcher, and he says he's been on the wrong end of a police stop at night.

"I was verbally abused, yelled at, cursed at," Powell said.

His opposition to stronger anti-texting legislation prompted Demetrius Branca, whose son Anthony died after being hit by a texting driver, to argue the good in the bill outweighs the bad.

"If we hesitate now, people are going to die," Branca said.

Before a vote, lawmakers added a provision requiring the state to keep track of who is being stopped.

Sponsor Keith Perry (R - Gainesville) says, in the end, the legislation will send a message.

"We're not trying to pull people over," Perry explained, "We're trying to change behavior."

Senator Audrey Gibson (D - Jacksonville) was the other "No" vote. She argues requiring hands-free driving takes away the incentive for discrimination to play into who gets stopped.

"It's very obvious someone is using a phone when you have hands free," she said.

Florida police chiefs acknowledge discrimination is a problem, and they're working to stop it.

"It's a valid concern, but law enforcement works very hard to implement the appropriate training," said Chief David Perry of the FSU Police Department and the Florida Police Chief's Association.

One of the questions asked was, will texting be allowed while stopped at a light?

The answer is yes.

But not while you're driving, unless you want to risk a $30 ticket.

The legislation has one more committee stop before being voted on by the full Senate. Last week, Governor Rick Scott said he favors the tougher law.

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