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Florida Legislature Considers Transportation Measure

Nick Evans

The Florida legislature is weighing a transportation related measure in the final days of session. Lawmakers are considering revising laws related to self-driving cars, driving under the influence and specialty license plates.

Orlando resident Bill DeMott’s life was radically altered when a drunk driver killed his 20-year-old daughter Keri Anne in 2015. He said his two other children are struggling to adjust to life without their sister. DeMott said his daughter could still be alive if the DUI offender had an ignition interlock device in his car.

“Under current law, there is no accountability for this 100 percent preventable act and I’m standing here with my daughter because there’s nothing keeping an offender from driving again drunk and there’s nothing in place to keep another mother or father from standing in front of this committee next year,” he said.

Lawmakers are considering allowing judges to order Floridians convicted of a DUI to install an ignition interlock device in their cars as a condition of probation. Interlock devices are breathalyzers the driver must use to start the car. The bill also allows first-time offenders who install the breathalyzers and complete counseling to avoid a guilty plea. Rep. Cord Byrd said he hopes to incentivize people to choose to use the device so their record can be sealed.

“So that they would be able to report that on an employment application," he said. "However, law enforcement would still have access to that information such that a person is arrested again for DUI, that will show up on their record and they will have the enhanced penalties that go with the repeat driving under the influence.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also discussing how to treat cab companies and ridesharing companies developing driverless vehicles. Sen. Tom Lee wants the state to bar exclusive deals between governmental bodies and companies like Uber, Lyft and SideCar. Deals would be allowed if they go through a competitive bidding process. Sen. Jack Latvala said that means taxi companies wouldn’t have to go through the same process.

“Taxi companies and transportation network companies ought to be treated equally and you know, if this amendment doesn’t provide that then we shouldn’t adopt it,” he said.

Lawmakers are also considering adding more specialty license plate designs. Under the legislation by Sen. Aaron Bean, the pre-sales minimum required to make the plate increases to 3,000 starting in 2020.

“We cap the number of plates in this amendment to 125. Each year we will eliminate the lowest performing tag,” he said.

The bill also requires a plate design for Auburn University, which is located in Alabama. The measure also creates new license plates for military veterans who have been awarded the Bronze Star or the Purple Heart.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.