Safe driver act takes back seat
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE -- Face to face with the earnest sponsor who asked them to adopt his "good bill," Hernando County commissioners pledged two months ago to enact the Dori Slosberg Driver Education Safety Act.
The act, which would allow counties to add $3 to every civil traffic penalty and then funnel the money to local driver education programs, could have taken effect last week with the start of the new fiscal year.
But the County Commission, School Board, Clerk of the Circuit Court and law enforcement agencies were not prepared to enact the fine as Oct. 1 came and went. The problems are not legal issues, said County Attorney Garth Coller, whose office has drafted an ordinance for the commission to adopt.
"It's really a matter of process," Coller said.
Working out the kinks could delay the program for as many as six months, Clerk Karen Nicolai said. Still, commissioners signaled their continued support for the surcharge to improve driver education programs.
"It's my intention to make sure we adopt that," Commissioner Chris Kingsley said.
Last Tuesday, Kingsley asked County Administrator Richard Radacky where the Slosberg Act had gone. Radacky said he was coordinating efforts among the several agencies to make the program a reality.
He said the earliest the commission might review an ordinance would be late October. The ordinance as written would add the $3 penalty to all civil traffic fines and have the money set aside in a separate trust fund to be administered by the County Commission.
The revenue would be used solely for direct educational expenses associated with driver education programs in local public or private schools.
Chairwoman Nancy Robinson said she wanted to hear specifics from the School Board as to how they plan to use the revenue, which is projected to be about $60,000 a year, when the commission considers the ordinance.
The basic idea is to add high-tech simulators to the public high school driver education classrooms, School Board Chairman John Druzbick said.
"The immediate need is for the simulators," Druzbick said. "They will still do behind-the-wheel. But this does give more practical training behind the wheel."
He did not know how much the technology will cost. Teachers are seeking quotes now, Druzbick said.
Before the school district acts, though, he said, the board needs to know how much money it will get and when.
The revenue estimates are documented by the state. But the "when" is uncertain.
Nicolai said she needs time to get all the documents printed with the proper fines on them, and then to educate law enforcement officers about the new amounts. And she does not want to spend a lot of money printing new documents if the county has large numbers of the old ones left.
"I've asked them for a good lead time," Nicolai said. "I hate to waste a lot of paper. If I've got a lot of things, it might be better to do a March 1 date. It's going to cost some money to implement this. We want to reduce the costs."
State Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, is trying to get every county to adopt his act, which he pushed through the Legislature in memory of his daughter, Dori, who died in a traffic accident at age 14.
One in three teenagers has an accident within a year of getting a driver's license, Slosberg told commissioners in August, quoting national transportation statistics, and 65 percent of teen passenger deaths occur when another teen is behind the wheel.
Yet a statewide crunch in education finances has left counties cutting back driver education rather than enhancing it.
-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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