Chloe's Law, also known as HB357, passed through a Florida House subcommittee on Feb. 2.
The law would require the Department of Transportation to install roadside barriers along bodies of water near Florida's highways by June 2018. The bill targets roadways where deaths due to drowning resulted from motor vehicles accidents, and focuses specifically on incidents that occurred between July 1, 2006 to July 1, 2016.
The Transportation and Ports Subcommittee passed the bill after Representative Rene Plasencia presented the bill with a slight change. The bill now gives the DOT the authority to determine if a barrier should be present based on amount of danger the barrier would present to a motorist, as determined by the DOT's chief engineer.
"We wanted to give the Department of Transportation and the director the department a little more flexibility on whether or not to erect a barrier and what type of barrier to erect," Plasencia said. "We want to protect citizens, but at the same time, we want to make it thoughtful because you can think you're protecting people but if you don't think things out thoroughly and thoughtfully, there could be unintended consequences. And what type of barriers are erected in certain areas could actually pose a threat when you're actually trying to create more safety."
Plasencia said there are different types of barriers such as guardrails, barrels filled with water, or even hedges and though their purpose is to protect the motorist from any hazards, the barrier itself might be a hazard. He said that barriers need to be appropriate for the speed of the road, the angle of any curves, and much more.
The law was inspired by the death of UCF student Chloe Arenas who died in June 2015 from blunt impact trauma to her head and neck after crashing into a retention pond.
So far, this bill has been through two committees in the Senate and one in the House. Plasencia said bills are usually assigned to three committees before they are presented to either the House or Senate, who then vote and send it to the opposing chamber. SGA legislative affairs coordinator Tyler Yeargain said the bill still has to filter through several additional committees and needs to be approved by the House and the Senate in a floor vote. Once that has happened, the bill will be presented to the Governor.
Though there's quite a bit of work left to be done, Yeargain said there's good reason to believe that Chloe's Law will pass during this legislative session.
"It is a bill that has broad, bipartisan support, and it is driven by a consensus-based approach, not rigid or ideological concerns," Yeargain said. "Considering the incredible progress that we have made in such a short amount of time, we have good reason to be optimistic that Chloe's Law will make it across the finish line this year."
Yeargain said Chloe's Law provides those rallying behind it the opportunity to prevent deaths like Chloe's in a practical way, and that the amendment to the bill preserves the intent of the bill.
"When the life of a Knight — any Knight — is lost, it is a tragedy, and we have a responsibility and an obligation to memorialize them in a way that truly matters," he said. "This bill will save lives, and there is no better memorial to Chloe than that."
He said that as the largest university in the state, UCF has a tremendous amount of influence and unique issues, and so encouraged students, faculty, staff, and other members of the UCF community to contact their state legislators to urge them to support Chloe's Law.
Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.