Bill To Raise Speed Limits, ‘Pop Tart’ Bill Among Measures Teed Up For Senate Votes

Apr 23, 2014

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The Florida Senate teed up several measures Wednesday, unanimously passed a number of measures, and sent some over to the Governor for his signature. That includes a bill addressing juvenile life sentencing, a pair of gun-related measures, and another increasing speed limits.

Speed Limit Bill

About 50 bills got teed up for a vote Wednesday, including a bipartisan bill allowing Florida Department of Transportation officials to change the speed limits on certain highways.

The measure by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) could even allow officials to set speed limits as high as 75 miles-per-hour on some roadways. Brandes says it also impacts the minimum speeds as well.

“This allows not only for us to adjust not only maximum speeds upwards, but it also requires the department to look at minimum speeds, and where appropriate to adjust those,” said Brandes. “Today, in statute, we say ‘hey, if you’re going 70, the minimum speed has to be 50. Sometimes, that’s actually not appropriate, and the minimum speeds should be closer to the maximum speeds. So, this allows the department to have flexibility with both maximum speeds and minimum speeds.”

But, some, including Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach), questioned the motive behind the bill.

“Is this about speed? Is this about efficiency? Or is it about safety,” asked Sachs.

Senator Clemens insisted the measure is really about efficiency and safety.

“It's really about the latter two you mentioned: efficiency and safety,” replied Clemens. “The generally held engineering practices are that speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of the speed of the actual traffic as it moves on these roads. So, if we can move traffic in a more efficient manner and do it in a more safe way, which is setting the speed limit at that proper level, then that’s the way we should be doing it. In addition, it allows the experts to set the speed limits, rather than the politicians.”

The measure has so far passed its committees with both bipartisan support and opposition.

"Pop Tart" Bill

Meanwhile, a couple gun-related measures also got teed up for a vote, including a bill allowing tax collectors to help the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with gun permit applications. So, did the so-called “Pop tart” bill. The measure by Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) is inspired by a young Maryland Boy who chewed his pop tart into a gun and got suspended for it.

“This bill protects our children from the overreaching school administrators who are trying to enforce overly-broad policies that affect our children and their families. You know, you can’t legislate common sense, but we can, and should legislate guidelines,” said Evers.

Under current law, students could face suspension or get a juvenile record for simulating a firearm or wearing a shirt with a picture of a gun on it. So, Evers’ aim is to put guidelines in place for school administrators to follow when it comes to their zero-tolerance policies regarding guns and kids at the school.

Some Democrats questioned whether his bill allows school boards to weigh in and how that process works. And, Evers says his bill takes care of that.

“It holds the teacher harmless from having to report those issues, and turns it over to the school principal, who actually makes that decision. And, then at that point, once he makes that decision, the parents can also appeal the decision to the school board if he goes overboard and doesn’t use common sense,” added Evers.

While Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) applauded the effort, he tried to tack on a few amendments aiming to get deal with zero-tolerance policies in Florida as a whole.

“Zero tolerance is sort of this notion of being tough on ‘crime’ as it relates in school, and I can tell you as a school teacher, there’s a stark difference between someone shooting guns in the street and someone spitting spitballs in the classroom,” said Bullard. “But, right now, people spitting spitballs in the classroom are being arrested.”

Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) also expressed similar concerns, and Evers promised that next year, all three will work together on legislation that would “make a giant leap forward” to build on his effort to let kids be kids. The National Rifle Association, a huge support of the bill, has also nicknamed the measure the “Let Kids Be Kids” bill.

Other Bills

The Senate unanimously passed a measure aimed at addressing juvenile life sentencing laws as well. The bill that already passed the House got amended in the Senate Wednesday, so it's now being sent back to the House.

They also passed a bill along party lines with Democrats opposed that would make it a separate crime to cause the death or injury of an unborn child at any stage of development during an attack on a pregnant woman.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.