TALLAHASSEE — In addition to signing the $77 billion state budget Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott approved 20 bills and vetoed a controversial one.
Scott made good on his promise to nix legislation that would have allowed state officials to raise the speed limit to 75 mph on highways. He announced his position last month, just days after attending the funeral of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Chelsea Renee Richard. She was struck and killed by a passing pickup trick while investigating an accident on Interstate 75 in Ocala; two others also died.
"Although the bill does not mandate higher speed limits, allowing for the possibility of faster driving on Florida's roads and highways could ultimately and unacceptably increase the risk of serious accidents for Florida citizens and visitors," Scott wrote in his veto letter for SB 392.
Law enforcement officials had lobbied against the speed limit increase even before Richard's death. Bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes said the accident altered the tone of the debate.
"It became a political issue, even though Officer Richard's death was not directly related to speeding, and I think the report would ultimately vet that out," Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said.
Brandes does not plan on trying to raise the speed limit again next year, saying Scott made his position clear and is unlikely to waiver if he is re-elected.
Among the bills the governor approved was a measure directing the Department of Transportation to use $15 million in state funding to construct a coast-to-coast biking trail. Scott also approved legislation that authorizes the hiring of three new appeals court judges and a bill that allows death row inmates to be represented by private practice attorneys while seeking clemency.
Most of the legislation Scott signed Monday was related to spending decisions contained in the budget. For example, the bill authorizing the bike trail conforms with the budget allocation for the project.
Last year, Scott vetoed $50 million in the budget for this initiative, a priority of incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican.
Gardiner said in April that he felt optimistic the bike trail money would not be killed again this year, especially since Scott joined him for a groundbreaking ceremony in Titusville.
"Over the last two years, the discussion surrounding the Coast to Coast Connector has created an increase in public awareness about the importance of ecotourism in Florida," Gardiner said via a statement.
Once completed, the bike trail will allow a cyclist to navigate 275 miles of terrain from the Atlantic Coast to St. Petersburg. The state estimates that it will cost $42 million to complete the gaps between existing trails, meaning the connector can't be completed unless additional state resources or private funding is obtained.
Contact Tia Mitchell at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected]