Motorists can be ticketed for texting while driving on Florida roads starting this fall, while money will flow for the next decade to help clean up the Everglades.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (SB 52) Tuesday that will allow motorists to be ticketed for texting while driving if they are pulled over for other traffic infractions. Also, he approved a separate measure (HB 7065) that alters the Everglades Forever Act (HB 7065) to designate $32 million a year for the River of Grass's upkeep.
The texting law, which has been years in the making, makes it illegal to read or type texts or emails while driving.
"Texting while driving is an issue we see on our roads every day, and the distractions it causes have negatively affected too many Floridians," Senate bill sponsor Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said in a news release after attending the signing with Scott at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in Miami.
Florida joins 38 states and the District of Columbia that have anti-texting and driving laws on the books for all motorists. Three other states have laws against texting by motorists who are under 21 years old or have learners' permits.
Brenda Smith, AAA motor club manager in Tallahassee, said motorists regardless of age will have to adjust to not texting, similar to the reluctance some had to putting on seat belts after their use became law.
"As time went on. you saw how seat belts actually saved lives; the first thing we've learned to do is to buckle up," Smith said. "It will take some time about the texting, because so many people are in the habit of doing that. But once you don't do that you'll find out that you really dont have the need to do that while you're driving."
The law, which becomes effective Oct. 1, comes with a number of caveats.
A ticket, worth $30 plus court costs, can only be issued for what is known as a secondary offense -- if the motorist had been pulled over for another infraction. When determining whether violations have occurred, billing records for wireless devices can only be accessed in the event of crashes that result in death or personal injury.
Also, the measure provides exceptions for use of GPS devices, talk-to-text technology and for reporting criminal behavior. It also allows texting while stopped, such as at red lights.
As for the Everglades, with Florida investing $70 million this year toward restoration efforts, the measure is intended to maintain for a decade $32 million a year for the purpose of cleaning water running off from South Florida farms.
"This is a long-term commitment," Scott said after signing the bill at Florida Atlantic University's Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach. "We have a long-term plan and this is going to do the right thing for the Everglades."
A large chunk of the recurring funds will be through a $25 per acre tax on growers within the Everglades Agricultural Area that will remain in place. The rate otherwise would have dropped to $10 per acre starting in 2017.
The funding is part of Scott's $880 million long-term Everglades restoration plan. Scott's plan depends upon continued federal support.
Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said the legislation "protects the 1993 Statement of Principles that has guided Floridas restoration efforts for two decades and provides funding for construction projects to ensure water quality standards in the Everglades are finally achieved."
Environmental groups had fought earlier versions of the legislation, which they said threatened to limit cleanup requirements for sugar growers and would have hindered the ability for third-party groups to challenge water permits being issued to farms.