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Texting-while-driving ban among first bills filed for 2013 legislative session

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers have filed their first bills of the season.

Most of the proposals are familiar: a ban on texting while driving, a requirement that parasailing operators carry insurance and a "foreign law" bill criticized by opponents as being anti-Islamic.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she will keep sponsoring the texting-while-driving measure until it passes. It nearly survived the Senate last year, but former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, blocked the measure in his chamber, calling it a potential infringement on personal liberty that would be difficult to enforce.

Under Detert's latest proposal, SB 52, law enforcement officers could tack on a $30 texting fine for a driver who is stopped for another violation. The penalty would not apply to drivers reading a navigational device or traffic safety information, the proposal states.

Detert pitched the measure as "common sense" middle ground. Some lawmakers oppose all new government oversight, while others think the law should go further — banning the use of all electronic devices while driving, Detert said.

"We should put it before members and let them vote on it. And whatever they decide, so be it," said Detert, adding that she thinks the bill stands a better chance with Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is the current speaker.

Weatherford has been publicly impartial on the issue, saying the state needs to balance driver protection with individual rights. He plans to allow lawmakers to hash it out in committee, spokesman Ryan Duffy said. Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, is sponsoring the proposal in the House.

None of the bills filed so far address unemployment, foreclosures or health care, which lawmakers often tout as the most important issues facing the state.

A "foreign law" bill filed is bound to stir controversy in 2013, as it did it 2012.

SB 58, sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would make sure Florida law trumps foreign law in marriage, divorce and custody cases. Hays says the proposal doesn't target a particular group, although he spurred protests from clergy of several faiths in 2012 by delivering anti-Islamic brochures to fellow senators days before a scheduled vote.

The proposal passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

A bill to regulate parasailing companies is also on the horizon after languishing last year under pressure from lobbyists.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, filed SB 64 to require parasailing businesses to use sturdy equipment, carry insurance, offer a safety briefing to passengers and not operate in bad weather. The bill is named the White-Miskell Act after Amber White and Kathleen Miskell, who died while parasailing in South Florida.

"We need to encourage the industry, to promote it and protect it, and these operators know the best way to do that is protect the people" Sachs said.

Parasailing is virtually unregulated in Florida (and almost everywhere else), with the state's 120 companies required only to have a boat license. Parasailing accidents have caused at least four deaths in Florida within the past two years, something most beachgoers don't realize as they're strapped into a harness to careen hundreds of feet over the water.

Lawmakers also have filed bills to make sure citizens have the opportunity to testify before government boards or committees take action (SB 50) and to ensure that men and women have equal rights (SB 54). Lawmakers also have filed 19 claims bills, in which victims or their families are seeking damages for an injury or death caused by government employees.

House and Senate committees will begin meeting next month. The 60-day lawmaking session is scheduled to convene March 5.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 323-0353.

Texting-while-driving ban among first bills filed for 2013 legislative session 11/23/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 24, 2012 1:09am]
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