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A question of competence for Florida’s senate minority leader

Florida state Sen. Frederica Wilson needs to relax.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, legislation sponsored by Wilson, D-Miami, would have made talking on one’s cell phone during the operation of a motor vehicle a secondary offense, meaning drivers couldn’t be pulled over for the offense, but could be cited for it if pulled over for another reason. Cell phones connected to hands-free devices would still be allowed.

Phone companies, naturally, didn’t support the bill. They argued that of all the things that can distract a driver – road rage, putting on makeup, blaring car stereos, global positioning systems, friends – cell phones could hardly be singled out as too hazardous, especially because very few accidents occur due to distraction as opposed to carelessness. Of the few accidents that do occur because of distractions, very few are the fault of a cell phone user.

Luckily, other government officials – who apparently have a more pressing obligation to things like personal liberty than Wilson – have disposed of Wilson’s legislation. Due to what Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and several other senators on the Senate Transportation Committee referred to as “conflicting evidence,” no vote was held on the bill. There was no companion legislation in the House, after all, so there was little point in voting.

Sen. Larcenia Bullard,D-Miami, “said she would push for legislative staff to study the cell phone issue before next year’s legislative session, hoping for a clearer picture of the dangers (of speaking on a cell phone while driving).”

In other words, Wilson didn’t even give her fellow Democrats in the Florida senate enough evidence to support her. Which isn’t to say the bill is necessarily a bad idea: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and the District of Columbia have all passed similar legislation. With all the paperwork and arguments involved in legislating citizens’ rights in five states, one would think Wilson would have ample resources to draw from when presenting her case.

But what Wilson has done, regardless of the merits of the bill, is to carelessly sponsor legislation that would take away rights of the public while not even bothering to provide enough evidence for members of her own party to vote for it. That’s no way for any senator to act, let alone one in Wilson’s position as minority leader pro tempore of the Florida senate. This is Wilson’s second term: In light of her recent performance, perhaps it should be her last.