Speed Limit Bill’s Looming Veto: What Led To That Outcome, Bill Sponsor’s 'Surprise'

May 23, 2014

Credit ClickOrlando.com

A record budget of $77 billion as well as several other bills were recently delivered to the Governor’s desk. And, as Governor Rick Scott looks to veto multiple budget turkeys from the state budget, there’s also one measure Scott has definitely promised to veto: a bill that could allow for the raising of speed limits on certain Florida highways.

In early May, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Cloud spoke at the funeral of Trooper Chelsea Richard. She was killed on May 3rd, when a truck slammed into Richard and two others as she helped out at the scene of a crash on Interstate-75. And, Cloud says speaking from experience, it’s a scary ordeal.

“I can tell you I’ve spent 24 years in law enforcement so far. I’ve been in riotous situations, fights. I’ve been a lot of different situations. But, I’ll tell you, being a trooper, what scares me more than anything is I have to go out on the Interstate and work a crash. People do not drive with good sense,” said Cloud.

Cloud said while he knows Scott cares about law enforcement, one way he hoped the Governor would show that is by vetoing a bill that passed this Legislative Session that could allow Florida Department of Transportation officials to raise the speed limits on certain highways up to 75 miles-per-hour.

“I don’t know who’s bright idea that was, but it wasn’t a very bright idea. Now, one of the things that I don’t want to see when I leave here today is to have Chelsea die in vain. Now, can I say that for a reason Governor because I want to plant that seed? What we need in this state is a law that says, when it is raining out there, when the roads are wet, when it is foggy, that speed limit needs to drop to 55 mph. We don’t need increased speeds out there,” Cloud added.

Just days after those remarks, Scott said he took Cloud’s comments to heart.

"...we had actually spoken to law enforcement and [DOT], which were both neutral on the bill going in, and so I was a little bit surprised..."

“Well, I can tell you there are times that I’d like to go faster. I was at a funeral last week for Trooper Chelsea Richard. I heard from Trooper Tod Cloud and he asked me during the funeral to veto that bill. I’ve heard from Sheriffs around the state and other law enforcement asking me to veto the bill. I’m going to stand with law enforcement, and I want everyone to stay safe and I don’t want anyone to be injured. So, I’m going to veto that bill,” said Scott, speaking to reporters following a Cabinet meeting.

And, vocal opponents to the bill, like AAA's, applauded the move. Senior Vice President Kevin Bakewell says Scott’s decision will save lives.

“Well, AAA’s extremely pleased with Governor Rick Scott’s decision to veto this bill. We made our case—we thought effectively throughout the legislative process—unfortunately the bill still got to his desk. We appreciate the fact that he’s listened and he’s put safety as a top priority here in Florida,” said Bakewell.

“Well, understand, AAA was against moving the Speed limit from 65 to 70. They were, in fact, against adjusting the speed limit back in the 1980s,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg)

Brandes co-authored the speed limit the bill along with Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth). Brandes says he was not surprised by AAA’s opposition to the bipartisan bill, but he was a little stunned by law enforcement’s.

“Mostly because we had three committee hearings in the House and three committee hearings in the Senate, and we had not heard any negative comments from law enforcement. In fact, we had actually spoken to law enforcement and the Department of Transportation, which were both neutral on the bill going in, and so I was a little bit surprised,” said Brandes.

Furthermore, Brandes says the cause of the I-75 crash itself—which led to three people’s deaths, including Trooper Richard’s—has nothing to do with his bill.

“My concern is that in that accident, the evidence doesn’t support that it was a speeding-related accident. The evidence supports that it was a “Move-Over law” violation, but that speed wasn’t the issue on that road. And, understand, that was speeds at today’s speed limits. So, if they were violating the speed limit, that was today’s speed limits. My bill was really meant to address straight flat rural areas where today 85 percent of the people using those roads are using it at 75 mph or greater,” he added.

Brandes says his bill would have allowed Transportation officials to have the flexibility to determine whether certain roadways needed higher speed limits. That’s only after a study done by Traffic engineers showed that most drivers were driving at a higher speed.

“Because speed limits should be set by how drivers are actually are using the roads, not just on the political whims of politicians,” continued Brandes.

16 states have higher speed limits than 70 miles per hour, but opponents say most have speed-related crash death rates above the national average. 

Meanwhile, Brandes says given the Governor’s views on his bill, he’s not expecting to bring back the measure in its existing form. But, he hopes to continue discussions next year on what should be the state policy on speed limits, including looking at minimum speeds and limited-access highways.

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