Friday, May 17, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the upgraded anti-distracted driving bill into law. Palmetto Bay advocate Mark Merwitzer present for the signing.

The law has been signed into law and takes effect July 1, 2019.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the upgraded anti-distracted driving bill into law on Friday, March 17, at Sarasota High School. The new law goes into effect July 1, and it allows police to stop and ticket drivers for texting while they’re behind the wheel of a moving car, with limited exceptions.  See: Governor signs bill: Texting while driving will soon get you pulled over in Florida, by Lawrence Mower, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, 5/17/2019.

Drivers will still be able to use their phone while their car is stopped.

Statement from Mark Merwitzer: I am beyond joyed to attend today's bill signing ceremony for HB 107, this year's bill to make texting while driving a primary offense and ban handheld cellphone use while driving in a school and work zone. I sincerely and wholeheartedly thank Governor DeSantis for signing my copy of the bill, and taking a picture with me. It will be a momento to hang on my wall forever. Three years of hard work, going to Tallahassee more times than I can count, and rallying local support has finally payed off. I remember when I first started, I got a very condescending phone call from the biggest lobbyist in Florida, Ron Book, telling me I am never going to make it and stop. Glad I did not listen to him because he is in jail for a vehicle related incident and I was at a bill signing ceremony. Do not let other people tell what you can or cannot accomplish. Always shoot for the moon. Thank you to everyone who supported me including my parents, Representative Toledo, Representative Slosberg, Senator Perry, Senator Simpson, Representative Stark, the Wanninkhof family, Mayor Flinn, Mayor Lerner, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Senator Diaz de la Portilla, School for Advanced Studies, and so many more people. This is only the beginning, I plan to shoot beyond the moon in the future.

CLICK HERE to view prior related posts relating to efforts on the anti-distracted driving legislation as well as specific to Mark Merwitzer.  Mark has been hard at work appearing over the many years before the Florida Legislature to enact life safety legislation relating to distracted driving.  Great work Mark. Your efforts will go a long way to make travel on our roads much safer.

Photo above right - Mark Merwitzer with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

End the delay, the time is now for Palmetto Bay to debate and take action on Council Member David Singer's proposed ordinance to ban plastic straws in Palmetto Bay

Let's go Palmetto Bay. Stop bottling up Council Member David Singer's plastic straw ban and let the debate come to the council floor where council members can finally let the public know why they have not seen fit to hear this item. There are no reasons to continue to avoid the issue of banning plastic straws in Palmetto Bay - as, as Gov. DeSantis opined: 
"Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views."
I have lost count as to how many regular and special council agendas this ordinance has been placed on, but excuses have ranged from inability to complete the agenda on meeting night (leaving a meeting with items unfinished) to the speculation that the Legislature was banning the right of local governments to enact this sample environmental legislation - and the legislature did through HB 771!

HOWEVER - Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed HB 771 that sought to restrict the right of local governments – which presently include Pinecrest and Miami Beach as well some communities that have been looking to enact, such as Council Member David Singer's sponsored ordinance here in Palmetto Bay.

Which all brings us back to the here and now. Council Member David Singer has unfortunately been on the losing end of 1-4 votes recently. Why should you care? Because these items involve Council Member Singer's proposals to increase transparency in Palmetto Bay government or to simply hold on to gains in transparency made from 2016-2018. Other recent loses include holding the line on Village spending as well as other fiscally sound proposals. The unreasonable and petty hold up of Council Member Singer's plastic straw ordinance is merely one example of unsound politics at work in Palmetto Bay. Thankfully, other local governments took action while the Palmetto Bay council bickered - otherwise no action would have been taken in Tallahassee. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke loudly with his veto pen last week, stating in his veto letter that:
"A number of Florida municipalities, including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and Miami Beach have enacted ordinances prohibiting single-use plastic straws," DeSantis wrote in his veto letter. "These measures have not, as far as I can tell, frustrated any state policy or harmed the state's interests. In fact, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has encouraged Florida residents, schools and businesses to reduce plastic straw use." 
"Under these circumstances, the State should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process."
Again, as Gov. DeSantis opined: "Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views."

(CLICK HERE) to view the full veto letter of May 10, 2019.

Please - no more delays in Palmetto Bay. Move this item forward Council Member Singer. And I request that the current Mayor and council to co-sponsor your proposed ordinance. Remember, as Gov. DeSantis stated: "Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views."

Monday, May 13, 2019

Update on the Unsolicited Bid - i3's renderings provide some insight into a vision for the future downtown area

I was able to obtain portion of the two competing bids - There were two bidders who submitted by the March 7, 2019, deadline. The bidders were NAI Miami and I3 Investments, LLC.

CLICK HERE to view prior posts relating to this ongoing unsolicited bid issue.

This post is merely the proposed renderings. Note - that this are for illustrative purposes only. The renderings submitted are not final or official site plan submissions. These drawings are for discussion points of what could be, not what will be.

FUTURE POST: I will be reporting on the financial data and comments on the specifics from each proposal.

This proceeding arises out of Palmetto Bay receiving what is known as an "unsolicited bid" for a 5 story mixed use project that includes a parking garage for no less than 450 vehicles in the downtown Franjo Road area. You can review significant information on this project in my original post of November 13, 2018 - CLICK HERE - Campaigns are over - time for the first decisions, setting the course by the new Village Council - issue: setting any new policy and reacting to the Unsolicited Proposal-Mixed Use Downtown Development - UP No. 1819-00-002





Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day - 2019

Enjoy this very special day! We wish all of our mothers and grandmothers a very special Mother's Day.

This important tradition started back in 1914 when the U.S. Congress designated the second Sunday in May each year as "Mother's Day."  That year, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first official U.S. Mother's Day - then designated an official legal holiday.

The roles our mothers have played in creating a beautiful and vibrant community cannot be overstated. Beyond their own careers and successes, their love and attention can be seen throughout our communities in the quality and success of our youth. 

On this special day, we also must remember and thank the mothers whose sons and daughters are serving in our nation's armed services. Please also remember the mothers who shoulder the burden as a single parent as their loved one serves our great county.

Happy Mother's Day!
Eugene Flinn

Friday, May 10, 2019

Consensus: All SFWMD Governing Board Members Ask U.S. Congress to Adequately Fund Everglades Restoration Efforts a $200 Million request.

Action taken by the recently revised South Florida Water Management Board. $200 million requested from congress to move from the promise to action on restoring our Everglades.  

CLICK HERE to review the full media release.

May our Miami-Dade County and Municipal Officials join in support of this bipartisan support for restoring America's Everglades – the $200 million ask. Resolutions are good, actual appearances and personal avocation is even stronger.

Support the restoration of our Everglades – as part of our overall effort to support our native environment (including our remaining Pine Rocklands).
May 10, 2019
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - All members the South Florida Water Management District's (SFWMD) Governing Board asked the U.S. Congress to do its part to restore and protect the unique ecosystem of America's Everglades in a letter sent yesterday.
"There is strong bipartisan support for restoring America's Everglades, and this world-renowned ecosystem depends on a sustained $200 million in annual federal funding for restoration," state letters signed by all SFWMD Governing Board Members transmitted yesterday to the U.S. House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee and the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. "The federal-state partnership to restore America's Everglades was agreed to nearly two decades ago and is critical to protecting this unique national treasure and the state's water resources for millions of residents and visitors. Unfortunately, federal funding of the cost-share for these critical restoration projects has not kept pace with the state's contributions, but we are hopeful that your support of Everglades restoration funding will make a difference."

CLICK HERE to read the full letter from the SFWMD Board Members.
Photo Credit: SFWMD

Sunday, May 5, 2019

What did our local leaders ask for in Tallahassee? Follow up to requests for specific information. The legislative asks from the 3 local municipalities submitted for consideration in the 2019-2020 budget

My Saturday blog post sparked some serious discussion. I have received many requests for follow ups on the Legislative Requests from Palmetto Bay and other localities. The questions have been for how much money was sought and for what specific projects (I listed money received locally). Note that Cutler Bay is still in the hunt to receive $300,000 for the Cutler Bay-Drainage Improvement Cutler Ridge Section 3 (HB 3769)

I only went back to compile the neighbors to the North and South of Palmetto Bay. Here is the list of requests, starting north in Pinecrest and moving south to Cutler Bay.

Pinecrest  
$1,500,000  HB 3765 - Pinecrest Waterline Extension Project
$   300,000  HB 4075 - Village of Pinecrest - Pinecrest Gardens ADA Accessibility Upgrades

$1,800,000 in requests
     ZERO    in budget for Governor's consideration

Palmetto Bay
$  745,900  HB 3763 - Palmetto Bay Multimodal Transit Station                     
$  745,900  HB 4081 - Palmetto Bay Nature Education Center
$  299,000  HB 4069 - Palmetto Bay Drainage Sub-Basin #61 Construction

$1,790,800 in requests
     ZERO    in budget for Governor's consideration

Cutler Bay
$  300,000  HB 3769 - Cutler Bay-Drainage Improvement Cutler Ridge Section 3
$  200,000  HB 3761 - Cutler Bay-Wetland Observation Tower
$  175,000  HB 3759 - Town of Cutler Bay Small Business Incubator

$  675,800 in requests
$  300,000 in budget for Governor's consideration

PRIOR RELATED POSTS:

May 4, 2019, Legislative asks - Legislature completes budget. Now waiting for Gov DeSantis' line item veto. 2019 score card.

April 26, 2019, Details on the Palmetto Bay requests: Transparency - is the Palmetto Bay Council placing the cart before the horse or is the fix in on the multimodal?

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Legislative asks - Legislature completes budget. Now waiting for Gov DeSantis' line item veto. 2019 score card.

Each year is different and 2019 was not a good budget year in Tallahassee for Palmetto Bay as the 3 requests failed to make it into the budget. The three requests totaled $1,790,800.00 that the Mayor and council were seeking to offset $6,089,800.00 in proposed projects – specifics discussed below.

The Miami Herald reported Saturday, 5/4/2019, that ..., "in a half day of overtime, lawmakers quickly approved a $91.1 billion budget with record spending on the environment and more spending on public schools." See Lawmakers work overtime to approve budget, cap session full of conservative victories, by Lawrence Mower, Samantha J. Gross, Elizabeth Koh, and Emily L. Mahoney.

The Dade Delegation (our Miami-Dade County members of the legislature) worked together to bring home the money needed for local projects as listed below. Results to date vary between the locals. There is money for other Miami-Dade Municipalities and organizations in the budget, subject to it surviving Governor Ron DeSantis' line item veto pen. This is Gov. DeSantis’ first budget, so we will learn for future years. I have been following the budget (CLICK HERE) to view a prior related post relating to an analysis of the Palmetto Bay budget requests for 2019.

There were many, many requests submitted – including from our neighbors Pinecrest, Cutler Bay and Homestead. An $800,000 request was placed for the Deering Estate Field Research Center that appears to have been funded at $200,000.00 – again, subject to making it past the line item veto – Go Deering!

I have listed some highlights for our fellow Miami-Dade County municipals (& Deering Estate) based upon my review of the budget. It is important to remember that any of the proposals listed below could suffer the line item veto before the budget is signed by the Governor into law:

$1,500,000.00 for City of Miami Biscayne Bay Tidal Valves and Stormwater Improvements (HB 3729)
$   985,210.00 for West Miami Potable Water System (HB 3775)
$   850,000.00 for City of Miami Springs Senior Center - New Building (Senate Form 1456)
$   750,000.00 for City of Miami Springs: South Royal Poinciana Median (Senate Form 1448)
$   250,000.00 for Bay Harbor Islands Sewer Lateral Lining Project (HB 2151)
$   200,000.00 for Deering Estate Field Research Center - from Gen Rev Fund (HB 4055) (1639A)
$   200,000.00 for Cutler Bay-Drainage Improvement Cutler Ridge Section 3 (HB 3769)
$   200,000.00 for Doral Stormwater Improvements NW 114 Ave./50th St (HB 4499)
$   200,000.00 for North Bay Village Stormwater Pump Station (HB 2773)
$     30,000.00 for Miami Gardens Canal Erosion Protection Project (HB 2239)

Palmetto Bay requests submitted that were DENIED:

$   745,900.00 requested for Palmetto Bay Multimodal Transit Station (HB 3763)
                             (total cost of project est.: $3,245,900)
$   745,900.00 requested for Palmetto Bay Nature Education Center (HB 4081)
                              (total cost of project est.: $2,245,900)
$   299,000.00 requested for Palmetto Bay Drainage Sub-Basin #61 Construction (HB 4069)
    (standard Stormwater % 50% of total project cost)

Recap for the 2019 Palmetto Bay Council Florida Legislative requests in Tallahassee:

$1,790,800.00 Total money requested from the legislature to cover:
$6,089,800.00 Total cost of these proposed projects to the residents of Palmetto Bay.

No legislative asks were even submitted to the legislature, seeking money for the following:

Canal bank restoration in Palmetto Bay
Money for purchase of land of special concern in and around Palmetto Bay – including:
              22 acres at Palmetto Bay Village Center
              Manage/removal of invasive or to restore native plants at :
                             Coral Reef Park
                             The Woods at 168th Street
Park master plan modification proposed for the community.
Police or security enhancements for the community.
Senior or youth programming for parks   

Again, each year is different, priorities and available money vary each budget year.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

POD - He wants me to let everyone know that he is definitely NOT going to be thinking of Palmetto Bay for a while

Not every reader submits serious information for publication in this blog.

He wants me to let everyone know that he is definitely NOT going to be thinking of Palmetto Bay for a while. He sent me a photo to prove it. I believe him.

Just for fun. First class out of the Country. Let's all take a break and not think of him either!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

11:00 AM - I cannot find the documents posted to the village website - formal request sent to Village Council and Charter Officers

This has become a cruel joke. I have followed the links provided and have patiently waited for the Village Officials to post the documents. I have even searched the web site for places the documents may be (though the public is directed to a specific link).

Posted below is my e-mail of May 1, 2019, 10:40 AM, I look forward to a response, hopefully revealing where I can access the promised documents as we are now hours away from the bid review meeting:

Greetings:

This is a formal inquiry seeking compliance with Resolution 2019-015 (and as amended at the Special Council Meeting of April 23, 2019). I am referring to the 7 PM meeting related to Opening & Evaluation of Bids - Unsolicited Proposal (UP) No. 1819-00-002.

The public was promised that the documents relating to the bid review would be available no later than April 30, 2019.  This promise was made in writing, through formal resolution. The following notice and link was posted on the Village Website: 
OPENING & EVALUATION OF BIDS - UP NO. 1819-00-002 MIXED-USE DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT FOR THE VILLAGE OF PALMETTO BAYWednesday, May 1, 2019 - 7:00 PM Village Municipal Center, 9705 E. Hibiscus Street - Council Chambers

Please take notice that the bid evaluation review committee shall be meeting to discuss and assign bid evaluation points to 
Unsolicited Proposals (UP) No. 1819-00-002 – Mixed-Use Downtown Development for the Village of Palmetto Bay on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Village of Palmetto Bay, Municipal Center, 9705 East Hibiscus Street, Palmetto Bay, FL 33157 (Council Chambers).
The received bids (presently sealed and awaiting opening and processing) derive from an unsolicited proposal for a possible project, including Village Hall property and property contiguous thereto the north. During the public meeting, the bid evaluation review committee (compromised of five members) shall publicly review each bid and individually assign bid evaluation points.

A copy of each received bid will be accessible on the Village website under the Procurement Division section on Tuesday, April 30, 2019
https://www.palmettobay-fl.gov/418/Cone-of-Silence-for-RFPs-RFQs-Bids 
Although this is not a meeting of the Village Council, Councilmembers may attend at their option.  No official action will be taken by Councilmembers.
Please assist me in locating copies of the bids.  I have been following this link since Tuesday, April 30 without success. I have attempted on several devices as well as several browsers. My last attempt was immediately prior to sending this plea for assistance.

May I have these documents as promised as well as an explanation as to where the documents were actually posted (if at all) by April 30?

I also suggest that his bid review be rescheduled until such time as the public has the rights granted to us by council of review no later than the day before the review.

Thank you for your time, effort and direction. I await your response(s).

Eugene Flinn

7:40 AM update - still no documents. No midnight post, no after hours efforts, we are now day of meeting.

Palmetto Bay - where promises made in regard to Transparency are merely aspirational, but far from realistic or achievable for this present group. It is after 7:40 AM and all is not well in Palmetto Bay for those residents and business that who rely upon Village Officials to keep their written commitments

The revised promise - made at an open, notice meeting was as follows (and taken from the village website: "A copy of each received bid will be accessible on the Village website under the Procurement Division section on Tuesday, April 30, 2019"

I am looking where village officials told me to look for the documents promised. Here is the actual link posted by the village to use: https://www.palmettobay-fl.gov/418/Cone-of-Silence-for-RFPs-RFQs-Bids

Palmetto Bay - where promises made in regard to Transparency are merely aspirational, but far from realistic or achievable for this present group.

See prior related post and the updates of April 30, 2019 - the day the documents were promised: Trust is important. Confidence wanes when commitments are not kept, especially after promises were changed unilaterally. Where is the action that follow promises that leads to trust? The promised documents are not posted now, the day of the event, in spite of promises and assurances.
Direct from the Village website:
OPENING & EVALUATION OF BIDS - UP NO. 1819-00-002 MIXED-USE DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT FOR THE VILLAGE OF PALMETTO BAY
Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 7:00 PMVillage Municipal Center, 9705 E. Hibiscus Street - Council Chambers
Please take notice that the bid evaluation review committee shall be meeting to discuss and assign bid evaluation points to Unsolicited Proposals (UP) No. 1819-00-002 – Mixed-Use Downtown Development for the Village of Palmetto Bay on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Village of Palmetto Bay, Municipal Center, 9705 East Hibiscus Street, Palmetto Bay, FL 33157 (Council Chambers).
The received bids (presently sealed and awaiting opening and processing) derive from an unsolicited proposal for a possible project, including Village Hall property and property contiguous thereto the north. During the public meeting, the bid evaluation review committee (compromised of five members) shall publicly review each bid and individually assign bid evaluation points.
A copy of each received bid will be accessible on the Village website under the Procurement Division section on Tuesday, April 30, 2019https://www.palmettobay-fl.gov/418/Cone-of-Silence-for-RFPs-RFQs-Bids 
Although this is not a meeting of the Village Council, Councilmembers may attend at their option.  No official action will be taken by Councilmembers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Trust is important. Confidence wanes when commitments are not kept, especially after promises were changed unilaterally.

8:00 PM update - "Eight bells" and no documents posted on the village web site. I have been watching off and on for the last four (4) hours - time for someone else to take the watch. I have other things to do to get ready for a full and rich day tomorrow. 

Obviously Village Staff departed for the day without completing their promise (made by the current Mayor and Council) to post the documents on the village website. The Palmetto Bay Villagers left without it getting done; let's all hope that they at least set the alarm at Village Hall!


7:00 PM update
- 24 hours prior to the advertised bid review meeting.


No documents posted on the website, contrary to multiple assurances.

Remember, the public was originally promised access to review these documents, 7 days in advance to the 5/1/2019 meeting - this was in writing (by formal resolution passed 5-0 by this current village council). It was then reduced from 7 to 1 day on April 23, 2019.

I refreshed my cache and clicked the link posted by the village: 
A copy of each received bid will be accessible on the Village website under the Procurement Division section on Tuesday, April 30, 2019https://www.palmettobay-fl.gov/418/Cone-of-Silence-for-RFPs-RFQs-Bids 
Please feel free to email a link that does provide these documents, if such a link exists. Please e-mail this link to eugene@eugeneflinn.com. And please note the date and time that you were able to view and download the bids to be reviewed on May 1. Thanks you.

Original post of 5:45 PM, 4/30/2019Another deadline has come and gone, ignored by the current Palmetto Bay leadership. Next update will be at 7:00 PM. A betting line has been opened on whether the village posts the materials promised by 7:00 PM, 11:59 PM, 9:00 AM May 1st or not at all. Gallows humor meant to replace the growing loss of confidence in a Council where even promises stated in formal resolutions are revised on a whim and even then are held to a standard that screams "commitments by the staff and council are meaningless!"

Darn, and after starting the day off on such a positive note with the morning blog post. The failure of the village to keep its commitment brought my mood crashing to earth. Surprised? No, but still I am disappointed.  So I vent. I vent with the goal of improving commitment to promises. I wonder aloud if this is part of the reason why our Village Attorney announced that he is leaving service of Palmetto Bay.

5:00 PM is generally accepted as the end of a business day (see the screen shot marked as blog exhibits 1 & 2). An apparent deadline came and went without the materials being posted. The link took me to screen that I posted next to it as blog exhibit 2.  This post went live at 5:45. Now we wait to see if the day prior means 24 hours prior or if the entire commitment made by Staff and the present Village Council was yet another scam.
                                   Blog Exhibit 1 (above -left)                        Blog Exhibit 2 (above -right)

Resolution 2019-015 provided for 7 days, approved 5-0, but then the entire Village Council Flip / Flopped at the special council meeting of April 23, 2019, drastically reducing the 7 day window for public preparation down to the day before (Agenda Item 4.B.) by the same 5-0 vote. 

The promise was originally 7 days notice. Here is what the website promised as of 5:45 PM on April 30, 2019:

A copy of each received bid will be accessible on the Village website under the Procurement Division section on Tuesday, April 30, 2019:   https://www.palmettobay-fl.gov/418/Cone-of-Silence-for-RFPs-RFQs-Bids 

The information promised was not delivered at 5:45 PM.

What does the the day before mean? Obviously not be 5:00 PM on April 30, the day prior to the May 1st scheduled meeting. 


Promises made in Resolution 2019-015:
(1) After opening of bids and study by individual staff members on the bid review committee, the review committee shall meet in a public meeting to discuss and assign bid evaluation points by individual staff members.
(2)Each bid shall be posted on the Village website and a copy of each bid shall be available for public review at Village Hall no less than seven (7) days prior to the review committee meeting.
(3) The review committee meeting shall be noticed no less than seven (7) days prior to the meeting.
(4) The bid evaluations shall be reviewed by the Council at a Council meeting for disposition as the Council sees fit in its discretion
(5)The Village Manager shall select two outside consultants, not from local government at a cost not to exceed $10,000 to participate in the five (5) member evaluation committee and the evaluation shall be completed prior to February 4, 2019.
          (underline emphasis added)

Promises made, but not kept are highlighted above. 

Resolution 2019-015 provided for 7 days, approved 5-0, but then the entire Village Council Flip / Flopped at the special council meeting of April 23, 2019, drastically reducing the 7 day window for public preparation down to the day before (Agenda Item 4.B.) by the same 5-0 vote.

PRIOR RELEVANT POST: April 26, 2019, Unsolicited bid update - committee to meet in public to review the proposals on May 1, 2019 - 7:00 PM - Flip meet Flop

So much for the language stated, but rendered hollow and meaningless through what actions (or lack of) have denied in Resolution 2019-015: 
"WHEREAS, the transparency and public awareness of the bid and acquisition process of the Village is important in building public confidence in Village government ..."  (page 1, lines 21-23 of resolution - all emphasis added)

Mark Merwitzer Interview on CBS4 Gainesville WGFL - April 29, 2019

Nearing the finish line? Years of advocating for an end to distracted driving in Florida, an update Guest Post - Mark Merwitzer - an advocate for safe road travel

EDITOR's NOTE: I am pleased to present another guest post to the South Dade Updates Blog (SDU) from Mark Merwitzer.  CLICK HERE for prior relevant posts relating to Mark Merwitzer.  Mark has been hard at work appearing over the many years before the Florida Legislature to enact life safety legislation relating to distracted driving. 

I want to thank Mark Merwitzer, a Palmetto Bay resident and a founding member of our Palmetto Bay Youth Community Involvement Board (and a past Chair of the Youth Board) for his tenacious efforts on this anti-distracted driving initiative. 

Also see a prior Guest Post from Mark Merwitzer: January 14, 2018, Guest Post - Mark Merwitzer - an advocate for safe roads - ending distracted driving


I am beyond excited to announce the passage of House Bill 107 through the Florida Legislature, and now is on its way to Governor DeSantis’s desk. Years of my hard work, along with others, has finally paid off.

Debbie Wanninkhof / Mark Merwitzer
After three years of my appearances in multiple committees, working with multiple elected officials, rallying support at a local level, and developing a relationship with many Florida politicians, as well as many families who have lost loved ones and then getting them involved, today is the day the Florida Legislature finally passed a texting while driving ban with primary enforcement.

Out of 50 states, 47 have laws to ban texting while driving as a primary offense. Florida is not one of those yet, but Governor DeSantis will have the bill on his desk within the next few days to make texting while driving a primary offense. In addition, the bill would prohibit handheld cell phone use in school and work zones. Currently Florida has a secondary offense which prohibits police officers from giving tickets to texting drivers unless another infraction is involved. Consequently, the roads are filled with people distracted by their phones often resulting in accidents and fatalities. Safety is the foremost concern for all, yet, Florida is currently lacking with this commonsense legislation. That will change October 1st, when the new law takes effect.

My personal journey began three years ago when I was just 16 years old. I was driving down the MacArthur Causeway with my dad after having lunch with my grandmother. My dad was cursing at every car that went by for swerving in and out of their lanes. I noticed that the vast majority of these drivers were on their phone, totally oblivious to the road. It occurred to me that no one was doing anything to address this massive road safety issue. When I got home and did some research, not only did I find that Florida did not have a primary enforcement law, but texting while driving impacts my generation the most.

So, I got to work. I reached out to my local officials along with the local youth councils -one of which I was the chair of- and asked them to do something about this severe problem. Unfortunately, the issue is preempted to the state which means that local governments cannot regulate texting while driving within their own municipalities. So instead of enacting local laws, I am pleased to have worked with many people such as Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor Eugene Flinn, Mayor Cindy Lerner, and many others to have them all pass urgings (also known as legislative requests) to the Florida Legislature and then lobby for the issue.

After all of these urgings passed, I contacted Senator Rene Garcia with the help of outgoing Senator de la Portilla and asked him to sponsor a texting while driving ban in the Senate. Senator Rene Garcia agreed. Representative Slosberg sponsored the bill in the House. Even though the bill did not pass the first year, it was the very first time any kind of texting while driving bill received a hearing since the secondary ban passed in 2013. It was also that year when I traveled up to Tallahassee for the first time and presented the bill before a Senate Committee. It was nerve racking for a then 16-year-old me. I am extremely grateful to everyone who supported me in that first year.

The next year is when things really got moving. After going up to Tallahassee multiple times in 2018, the bill managed to get through the Florida House and 3/4 of the Senate committees. Unfortunately, the last committee chair, Rob Bradley, refused to hear the bill. Senator Bradley single-handedly killed the bill last year. That action devastated many families who lost loved ones and went to Tallahassee to advocate for the bill.

However, I was not discouraged at all and decided to keep up the good fight.

But, as the saying goes, the third time's a charm. This year, I am grateful for the sponsorship of Senate President Designee Wilton Simpson and the work of Representative Jackie Toledo. With their sponsorships and the backing of a coalition of which I am a part of, getting grieving parents on board, sacrificing my spring break, talking to dozens of legislators, and appearing at almost every hearing for the bill, we were finally able to get it done this year. I am so glad to see my hard work finally pay off.

Thank you to everyone involved for making our roads safer.

-Mark Merwitzer