Florida's International Eggy Face: Clean It Off Loudly, Lawmakers
Around the State
Tip for all you House reps: On Tuesday when you repeal last year's half-baked CS/CS/HB 1223, dumbest Florida law in decades -- dumber even than our constitutional protection of pregnant pigs -- invite the international media in to see you do it.
It's the one where tourist-dependent Florida gives foreign visitors dithering over where to vacation this year a reason to tick the "anywhere but Florida" column.
Don't just repeal this law, shred it. Rip it to smithereens. Be seen and heard making an apology.
I'm not exaggerating when I tell you, Florida really needs good publicity around the world right now. Word has been slow getting out that the Florida Legislature is going to undo the 2012 law that overnight created a tsunami of driving criminals by requiring all foreign drivers to carry an international drivers permit as well as their license from home.
For many Brits, Aussies and others, March is the traditional family "holiday" planning period. And, yes, Florida's international drivers permit (IDP) requirement is causing some of them to change travel plans -- or so the Foreign Office in the U.K. tells us.
That's dollars out of our pockets right now -- we won't know exactly how many until after the dust settles.
"Who decided over there that travel isn't enough of a hassle so we have to give our tourists something else to exasperate them?" asked London magazine writer Joel Weston in a BBC radio interview. "Florida has a governor who came over here not long ago and said he wanted all of us to visit his state. Yeah, right. I don't think so."
International travellers accounted for nearly 15 percent of Florida’s 87.3 million visitors recorded in 2011. Canada tops the list of foreign visitors at 3.3 million, followed by 1.5 million Brazilian and 1.3 million British tourists.
It's true, Visit Florida and the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles are trying their best to get word out that the law, which officially went into effect Jan. 1, has been put on hold at least until November -- and likely will be struck down quickly during the current legislative session. But while there is a law on the books, many travel agents abroad are advising their customers to err on the safe side and get an IDP.
Less than a month ago, Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, a spokeswoman for the state DMV, told The Independent newspaper in London that police who encounter British motorists -- actually, it's any non-U.S. citizens -- driving illegally have two options: Arresting the driver and taking him/her to jail, or giving the driver a citation with a mandatory court appearance.
As embarrassing as biting the hand that feeds us is, the law may violate the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949), an international treaty to which the United States is a signatory. Such treaties pre-empt state laws in conflict with them.
I don't blame just the Legislature for hatching this absurd law, meant to assist the Highway Patrol and local police in interpreting a foreign license. I also blame myself and the rest of the Tallahassee media. I don't remember any of us lifting a finger to blast the implications of a law that no other state in the nation has, let alone one that depends on tourists to pay so much of its freight.
Gov. Rick Scott, egg plastered all over his face, has said the international drivers permit legislation is a bad law and I know he means it. But last year, like the rest of us, it apparently escaped his attention. He never fought it, certainly didn't veto it.
By the way, the 2012 bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.
Most affected -- in fact, most invested by this "unintended consequences" law -- are the Canadians, who visit the Sunshine State annually in droves. Jim Byers, Toronto Star travel editor, whipped up his Florida-visiting readers into a frenzy with a Valentine's Day column that said, "What a lovely way to say thank you." He also said this, quoted in newspapers on four continents:
" ... I think it makes perfect sense for Florida to take action like this. I mean, people with licenses from Brazil and Mexico and Canada and Australia and Britain are wreaking HAVOC on Florida roads. You think unemployment and immigration issues and, oh, I don’t know, gun control are important? You silly, silly people. Those problems absolutely PALE in comparison with the carnage left behind in Clearwater and Kissimmee by rampaging hooligans from Halifax, with their fancy Nova Scotia licenses that no Florida cop could possibly understand. ...
"We make up, by quite a large bit, the largest group of visitors to the Sunshine State. So what do we get in return? We get told we’re supposed to pay $25 for an International Driving Permit for the privilege of driving in the state that we keep in business."
We've been laughed at by Leno and Letterman, ridiculed in at least eight foreign newspapers, cursed in blog comments and on Twitter.
The full House is scheduled Tuesday to take up the repeal bill, HB 7059. Its sponsor is Jacksonville Republican Daniel Davis. A companion bill, SB 1766, started its journey through the Senate last week. Oh, yes, and allow me to answer the inevitable legislator question, "How will troopers be able to figure out these foreign licenses if we repeal?" Here's how: The same way troopers in the other 49 states do it.
The House at least needs to de-dumbify Florida Statutes by one on Tuesday, and make sure its voice is heard across the world. We will live this anti-tourist law down in time. Luckily, visitors come for our beauty, not our brains.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.