1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Texting while driving bills stall over disagreement in Florida Legislature

The House and Senate can’t agree on how broad the law should be.
[DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Apr. 24

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would allow police to stop Florida motorists for texting while driving has stalled in the Legislature yet again, with the House and Senate deadlocked over the difference between reading and typing on a cell phone.

With just days left in the two-month legislative session, supporters of the bill fear a repeat of years past, when efforts to crack down on distracted driving were stranded because of concerns about racial profiling.

This year, lawmakers are stuck on how far the ban on using a cell phone should go.

This year’s proposed House bill is essentially a repeat of last year’s. The bill would allow police to pull motorists over for typing on a phone, with limited exceptions. It passed the House on Tuesday with a 104-9 vote.

The Senate, however, has a much broader bill. The driver would not just have to be texting, but holding the phone and using it in almost any way. Drivers would, however, be allowed to use the phone through a car’s hands-free system.

And the Senate bill wouldn’t just limit it to phones, but any kind of wireless device, including tablets, laptops and game systems.

“The Senate version is a hands-free version,” said the Senate bill sponsor, Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. “The House version is, you can’t text while you’re driving, but you can read your phone while you’re driving.”

Texting while driving is already illegal, but police can’t pull motorists over just for that. Police can only cite drivers for texting if they pull them over for something else, such as speeding or running a red light.

To address the dangers of distracted driving, lawmakers in the Florida House have been trying for years to make texting a primary offense. If passed and signed into law, Florida would join 43 other states that have similar laws.

Lawmakers don’t have much time to work out the differences. In order to send a bill to the governor to sign into law, the House and Senate bills must be identical.

“We’ve got another week and a half,” Simpson said. “If we get this thing done, we can save a lot of lives.”

Last year, a texting-while-driving bill sailed through the House with the backing of then-Speaker Richard Corcoran. But it was blocked in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who refused to hear it in the Appropriations Committee, where he is chairman.

Bradley cited concerns that the bill would allow police to view people’s cellphones, an invasion of privacy, and could lead to racial profiling.

Of the nine House members who voted against it Tuesday, some expressed similar reasons.

“These are issues that we cannot just brush under the rug,” said Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, on Tuesday. “These are issues that in the current climate of our national discourse, people are afraid to get into these debates. People are afraid to get into these conversations because they make us uncomfortable.”

A 2014 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that black drivers in Florida were nearly twice as likely as whites to be stopped for not wearing seat belts.

In response to that study, both the House and Senate bills include a provision that would require police to record the race and ethnicity of each person they cite for texting while driving.

Currently, hardly anyone is ever cited for it. In 2016, barely 1,400 people were ticketed for texting while driving. Last year, just 1,671 were.

And the penalties are weak. A first-time offense is just $30, plus court costs. Being cited a second time results in three points being counted against a driver’s record.


  1. Florida Senator Darryl Rouson on the floor of the Florida Senate. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
    His office said he had been considering filing the bill, but a Times/Herald investigation published Wednesday prompted them to move more quickly.
  2. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., questions FBI Director Christopher Wray during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Also pictured is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., left. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Scott is co-sponsoring a bill to overturn a 1950s Supreme Court ruling.
  3. Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon, where she spoke on domestic violence — was paid $761,560 annual salary as head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. MIAMI HERALD  |  [Bob Eighmie Miami Herald file photo]
    Former state Sen. Denise Grimsley, a friend of Carr’s, is stepping in as interim president and CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  4. In this 2017 photo, then-Gov. Rick Scott, left, speaks with then-Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran in Tampa. The two were instrumental in refusing to expand Medicaid in Florida. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
    According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Florida likely suffered the second-highest total of deaths in that time period — 2,776 — attributed to not expanding Medicaid,...
  5. Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivers a Veterans Day address at a campaign event, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) ELISE AMENDOLA  |  AP
    State rep. Ben Diamond: Mayor Pete is ‘the type of leader that can really bring our country together’
  6. Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. Rep. Val Demings have prominent roles in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. [AP Photos]
    Pam Bondi, Matt Gaetz, Val Demings and more will factor prominently in the coming weeks. Here’s how.
  7. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Kent was one of the most high-ranking career officials who had knowledge about elements of the alleged White House effort.
  8. President Donald Trump speaks at the Economic Club of New York at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    The explanation gets complicated.
  9. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Florida lawmakers agreed the state’s old drug sentencing laws went too far. But that means nothing to people serving time.
  10. Sen. Travis Hutson presents his Job Growth Grant Fund legislation to the Senate Education Committee on Nov. 12, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The original version would have targeted charter schools only.