New Florida Senate Transportation Chair Jeff Brandes not certain about texting while driving legislation

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One of the first bills filed for the 2013 legislative session comes from Sarasota state Sen. Nancy Detert. Her bill would fine drivers $30 for texting, but only if they're stopped for another violation. Although that's rather modest compared to other states when it comes to regulating cellphone usage in autos — states like New York and California only allow using hands-free phones while driving — Sen. Brandes said he's not sure about it.

"Georgia has a law very similar to the one being proposed, and they're having a very challenging time enforcing it," he said, adding that Detert's bill (being sponsored in the House by Sarasota's Doug Holder) is a secondary enforcement law. "They have to pull you over for speeding, and then have to determine that while you were speeding you were texting. And so, that's an incredibly challenging thing to do. It opens up a lot of cellphone privacy issues. So we have to be cautious, but we do have to look at it."

Among other issues that Brandes said he looks forward to addressing is synchronized traffic light cameras. He also said it's important to invest in infrastructure, ports and highway systems, and what roads motorists need to pay to drive on.

"We're going to have conversations about some of our roads as well as what can be tolled, and what should not be tolled," he said.

He also expressed concerns about transportation gas taxes, as cars that get better fuel efficiency means less revenues for the state (as is the case at the national level, where the 18.4 federal tax hasn't changed in nearly two decades).

"Interesting challenging problems, but I look forward to taking them on in the next couple of years," he said.

New committee chairmanships in the Florida Senate were announced Wednesday afternoon in Tallahassee by Senate President Don Gaetz, and taking over Transportation is Jeff Brandes, recently elected to represent parts of St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Advocates for legislation that would put limits on texting while driving have keenly anticipated the selection, since the chair of this committee will have significant influence over getting such a bill passed. Florida is one of just a handful of states that doesn't address using a cellphone while driving.

"I think we need to look at it. We should study it, we should look at what's happening in other states," Brandes said Wednesday afternoon about such laws. But he's somewhat skeptical of what he's seen and heard in those other states.

"In some instances, accidents have actually gone up because of these laws. Also I've seen where they're having a hard time enforcing these laws. So I think we need to be very careful about implementing these things, but we need to look at it."

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