New state laws to debut
By NATALIE BAUGHMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- As 15-year-old Allison Farrell waited to take her learner's license test Friday afternoon, she flipped through her manual one last time -- making sure she knew every bit of information.
She needed to pass the test before Sunday to beat a new law that will go into effect that day and require drivers younger than 18 to have their learners' licenses for a year. Current state law requires drivers to hold their learners' licenses for only six months.
"I don't want to wait a whole year," Farrell said. "I'm a responsible person and I think I'll be ready to drive on my own before that."
Farrell was among the many teenagers waiting in line at driver's license centers throughout the state Friday afternoon. Some centers had served 300 teenagers by 3 p.m., which is 10 times the normal amount, said Sandra Lambert, Florida's director of driver's licensing. The teen driving law is just one of about 30 new state laws that will go into effect Sunday.
Other new laws include a measure requiring swimming pool safety protections to prevent child drownings, another laying down tougher prison sentences for 16- and 17-year-olds who use a gun during a crime, and a third lowering the interest rates charged by so-called "title loan" lenders.
The laws were enacted by the state Legislature this spring and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. An earlier batch of new laws went into effect July 1.
Of the new measures, the new teenage driving law may well bring the biggest shock -- at least among teen drivers and their parents.
Teens with Florida learners' licenses can drive only with a parent or adult guardian. With the new law, teen drivers younger than 18 will have that restriction for a year before they can get a nonrestrictive license.
In addition to the licensing requirements, the new teenage driving law mandates that holders of learners' licenses have no moving violations, such as speeding or running a red light.
The law also requires new drivers to practice driving with a parent or guardian older than 21 for 50 hours -- 10 of which must be at night -- before getting their licenses.
Farrell said the new law is strict but will probably cut down on accidents caused by teenage drivers. The sounds of tires screeching and horns blaring in her school parking lot have convinced her that many people are not as cautious as they should be.
"I know a couple of teenagers who have been killed in accidents that could have been prevented," she said. "It's unfortunate that they don't wait until they're ready to take their driver's tests. They make it necessary to create strict laws that affect us all."
The law was created in response to pleas from a man whose 15-year-old son, Justin Marksz, died along with two friends in a car crash in December 1997. The driver was 16 years old and had his license for two months. All three had been drinking, according to published reports.
A second new law that will affect teens is the 10-20-life for juveniles law. The state will be able to create mandatory prison sentences of 10 years for 16- and 17-year-olds who use a gun while committing a crime, 20 years for shooting the gun, and life for shooting a victim and causing injury.
Still another new law will require restaurants that seat more than 50 patrons to reserve half of their seating for non-smokers. Currently, restaurants that seat 50 or more must set aside just 35 percent for smokers.
By Oct. 1, 2001, the restaurants will have to designate 65 percent of their seating as smoke-free. Next year's stricter requirements will also apply to restaurants that seat fewer than 50 people.
Ray Theriot, manager of Sea Critters Cafe in Pass-A-Grille, said he will spend his weekend rearranging tables to comply with the new law. The restaurant, which seats about 150 people, currently reserves the required 35 percent of its seating for non-smokers.
"It's going to be virtually impossible for me to meet this law," Theriot said. "I'm going to have to change everything around, which is going to be an inconvenience. This is another example of how government places too many laws on everybody."
David Rupp said he doesn't mind increasing the size of the non-smoking section in the Crab Shack, the restaurant he manages. He will simply make the bigger of his two rooms non-smoking.
But Rupp said it will be difficult to prevent smoke from penetrating the large, non-smoking room because of its proximity to the bar. The two smoke-eating devices that he installed can't remove all the fumes.
"It would be a lot easier if the government made everybody go smoke-free," Rupp said. "Then we would be on a level playing field and things wouldn't be so complicated."
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire