TALLAHASSEE, FL- Attorney General Pam Bondi joined Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami), Representative Bryan Nelson (R-Orlando), other legislative leaders, law enforcement and road enthusiasts to announce a legislative proposal that will crack down on the growing problem of hit-and-run drivers and remove theincentive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of an accident. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, three people were killed every week by a hit-and-run driver in 2012.
Under current Florida law, there is a minimum mandatory sentence of four years in prison for killing someone while driving under the influence. In contrast, a driver who leaves the scene of an accident that kills someone faces a much lighter sentence. In the case of cyclist Aaron Cohen, the driver who killed Aaron and left the scene received less than two years in jail.
“Floridians deserve to feel safe when enjoying their communities, and this legislative proposal will crack down on all hit-and-runs," stated Attorney General Bondi. "I thank Senator Diaz de la Portilla and Representative Nelson for their leadership on the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, and I applaud Patty Cohen for her bravery in transforming her tragedy into action to protect others.”
"Aaron Cohen was a member of my community. The outrage that followed the light sentence his killer received brought attention to the punishment gap in sentencing laws, and we, along with his family and friends, decided to take action," stated Senator Diaz de la Portilla, sponsor of SB 102.
"This bill is about protecting people," said Representative Nelson, sponsor of HB 183. "Those who are not protected by the metal exoskeleton of a car should feel just as safe on the road as someone who does have that protection."
This legislation will:
Create a minimum mandatory sentence of four years for leaving the scene of an accident which results in death (with an allowance for downward departure by the court when mitigating factors exist.)Increase existing minimum mandatory sentence from two to four years for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death with DUI.Increase the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury from a 3rd degree felony to a 2nd degree felony. Define "Vulnerable Road User" (VRU) and create a VRU enhancer in the criminal punishment code.Require a three-year revocation of the offender's driver's license and, prior to reinstatement, a driver's education course on the rights of vulnerable road users.
"As Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, I believe it's time to close the penalty gap for hit-and-run drivers in Florida. This legislation will make our roads safer for everyone--pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists," stated Senator Greg Evers (R-Pensacola), a bill co-sponsor.
"How do you explain to grieving families that the person who struck their loved one chose to leave rather than call for help? I want this legislation to motivate people to do the right thing," said Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), a bill co-sponsor and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
"Too many lives have been lost; too many families, just like mine, have been devastated," said Patty Cohen, Aaron Cohen's widow.
“The Florida Sheriffs Association strongly supports legislation that would create proportionate penalties for drivers committing the crimes of DUI Manslaughter and Leaving the Scene of an Accident resulting in death," said FSA President and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "We should not have laws that encourage drivers to leave the scene of an accident."
Also participating in the press conference today were: Senator Rene Garcia, Representative Eddie Gonzalez, Representative Irv Slosberg, Representative Jim Waldman, Dr. Mickey Witte, Founder, Aaron Cohen Law Initiative; Tim Bustos, Executive Director, Florida Bicycle Association; Kristen Allen, State Victim Services Manager, M.A.D.D; Maj. Chris Connell, Tallahassee Police Department, representing the Florida Police Chiefs Association; Maj. Jim Russell, FSU Police Department; Sgt. Dave Ferrell (Ret.), Tallahassee Police Department, and Lt. Bruce Ashley and Sgt. Mike Helms, Wakulla County Sheriff's Office.
Senate Bill 102 unanimously passed its first two committee stops. The first committee hearing for HB 183 will be in the House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee.
Click the following links to view Senate Bill 102/HB 183: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2014/0102
Click the following link for more information on the bill's grassroots efforts: