TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A St. Petersburg family is at the center of efforts to allow police to stop and ticket texting motorists after losing a child in 2015, but one of the most powerful people in the State House of Representatives says the cost to freedom is too high.
Lavon Reese was a senior at Florida State University when she was hit and killed by a texting driver in January 2015. Now the family of the St. Petersburg native is on the forefront of lobbying for tougher texting laws.
Jeffrey Beaten, Reese's cousin, said Reese was one of 218 people killed in 2015 in accidents related to texting and driving.
"My family is not alone," he said.
The legislation, which would allow police to stop motorists seen texting without observing some other violation first, has cleared two Senate committees, but it’s sponsor is not optimistic.
“I think it's on life support, unfortunately," Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said. "I hear that the House is reluctant to move the bill.”
The offense would carry a $30 fine.
There have been no hearings of the bill in the House. The biggest obstacle is speaker-in-waiting Jose Oliva, who did not respond to requests for an interview. House spokesman Fred Piccolo provided a statement, saying the House had not formulated a position.
In 2013, Oliva, R-Miami, kept texting and driving from being a primary offense.
“I, like everyone else, want to see the end of children texting and getting killed in automobiles, (but) not at the expense of our civil liberties," Oliva said in May 2013.
House sponsor Emily Slosberg said she believes it could be 2021, after Oliva is out of the Legislature, before the texting bill could pass.
“It will be 2021 before there is a speaker who is friendly enough to let this come up?" Beaten asked. "That’s really difficult for me to grasp."
The driver who killed Reese is serving a three-year prison sentence.
State records show there were 45,740 accidents in 2015 that were caused by distracted drivers.