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Representative garners Levy support for texting bill

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By Sean Arnold

Staff writer

Emily Slosberg, a Democratic State Representative from Boca Raton, was a long way from her home district.

But in her visit to Levy County earlier this month, she found common ground in support of her cause – passing stricter texting-while-driving laws.

Her passion has led her on a statewide campaign to drum up support to pressure the legislature to strengthen the state’s texting and driving laws.

Slosberg presented a resolution to the Levy Board of County Commissioners on Aug. 8 that urges the legislature to act on the issue by making texting and driving a primary offense.

The resolution, on a motion by Commissioner Mike Joyner, passed unanimously and received an endorsement from Sheriff Bobby McCallum.

“This will save some lives throughout the state and in Levy County, I really believe,” McCallum said.

Slosberg failed to gain support in the legislature in filing and co-sponsoring bills that would change texting and driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense, as well as for an amendment that would make it a primary offense only in school zones.

“Nothing,” Slosberg said of the response she received from the bills. “It’s incredible.

“Florida’s one of four states that does not have primary enforcement.”

Because texting while driving is currently a secondary offense, a driver cannot be pulled over over for texting and driving, making it difficult to enforce. Slosberg’s current bill would change that, making it a moving violation primary offense, and making citation fines for texting and driving commensurate with other moving violations. Texting-and-driving fines are currently $30.

“From 2015 to 2016, crash reports have increased 10 percent, due to distracted driving,” Slosberg said. “If you put the phone in the hands of an inexperienced driving, it’s a deadly combination. Fatalities are increasing, injuries are increasing, and our laws aren’t doing anything to address the problem.”

According to reports, Slosberg attempted to pass stricter texting-while-driving ordinances in Palm Beach County, where her district resides, but the State Attorney General’s office said a county cannot enforce those laws differently than the rest of the state.

Traffic safety law hits home for Slosberg, who was elected in 2016, as her twin sister lost her life in a car accident. Her father, Irv Slosberg, a former state representative of 12 years, was also known as a staunch ally for stricter traffic safety laws.

“I made it my mission now to go to all these counties and cities and let you guys weigh in, because it’s that important that we do something,” Slosberg said at the BOCC meeting.

She’s received strong support from police and sheriffs groups.

“I appreciate you bringing the fight to the people and going county by county, going to the Sheriff’s Association and Police Chief’s Association – I commend you for that,” BOCC chair John Meeks said. “That is proof you are a true representative of the people.”

McCallum said the Florida Sheriffs Association will be discussing the issue at its upcoming legislative summit, and he anticipates it will endorse a resolution similar to one that Slosberg presented.

“Traffic fatalities increase every year in Levy County for the most part,” McCallum said. “Our wagon is loaded and we don’t have the time to devote on traffic enforcement that we really need to, although we’re pretty proactive for a Sheriff’s office in that realm, because we know how many folks we lose to the traffic crashes.

“Combined with the drug and alcohol driving, the texting just adds another phase to the safety issues,” the sheriff continued, adding that texting-while-driving is a temptation everyone faces as drivers can be constantly reached by text and email. “I support making this a primary offense, and to make it a civil infraction, which make the penalties a little less. As with any new statute, you’re going to see law enforcement primarily issue warnings the first go-around to influence our driving public.”

“It’s basically unenforceable law as a secondary offense.”