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As texting while driving bill moves through Legislature, concerns over potential for profiling

Posted at 8:13 PM, Jan 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-11 04:11:12-05

Everyone has a close eye on the texting while driving bill moving through the state Legislature, including John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association.

"It's probably going to save some lives, so it's a good thing," said Kazanjian.

Kazanjian is currently in Tallahassee, attending committees discussions about the bill.

He said he's making sure the PBA is in the middle of it all.

"There was a couple of representatives that had some questions and maybe a couple of issues," he says. 

Several African American lawmakers have expressed concern that the law will give more enforcement power that could lead to racial profiling.

It was an issue last year as well, as a similar bill stalled in a subcommittee because of those concerns.

This year, the bill includes language requiring officers to tell the driver they don't have to hand over their phones.

For some people, including the American Civil Liberties Union is not enough.

The ACLU released the following statement to NewsChannel 5 from Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida:

“The focus of law enforcement should be on the broader problem of distracted driving, rather than simply texting while driving – which is only one example of a potential cause of distracted driving.  It is the job of those charged with the protection of the public through enforcement of laws that promote traffic safety to focus on the behavior of drivers that may be the basis of distracted driving.  Law enforcement should not be “pulling people over” because they are holding a cell phone, that is an overly simplistic approach to the danger.  People should be stopped because their driving behavior displays dangerous or erratic maneuvering.

We also have to consider the well-documented racial disparities in traffic law enforcement. In Escambia County alone, black motorists are four time more likely to be stopped and ticketed.  People of color are overall more likely to be subjected to a police search once stopped—providing good reason to have concern about how this bill would allow for more officer discretion and racial profiling.”

Kazanjian pushed back on the concerns.

"If he follows you or she follows you around for a couple of minutes, most likely you're going to commit an infraction if they really wanted to pull you over. It's just going to be status quo, that's all."

NewsChannel 5 reached out to several of our lawmakers today, but because they are in session, they were not available to comment.

The bill must pass through several more committees before it makes it to the floor for debate.