With a photo of her slain husband pinned on her shirt, Lisa B. Smith and her 5-year-old twins watched as Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday signed a bill designed to keep drunk drivers off the streets.
Named after Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Robert Smith, who was killed by a drunk driver three years ago, the bill will allow a judge to detain a driver charged with DUI/manslaughter until trial. Currently, those defendants can be released on bond.
The new law goes into effect Oct. 1.
“I know that we felt a lot better knowing that Robbie’s killer was behind bars to stay there until trial,” Lisa Smith said. “This is closure now.”
Last year, Bush vetoed the same bill when legislators tacked on amendments extending the bill to other charges unrelated to DUI.
“There are pretrial detention programs that are quite effective throughout the state. Dade County probably needs to improve theirs,” said Bush. “The last bill would have burdened the successful programs.”
The governor was in Miami-Dade County Tuesday to sign two bills: the DUI law and a tax exemption bill that provides a $20 million tax relief to nonprofits across the state.
The DUI bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami and Rep. Gaston Cantens, R-Miami also can be applied to habitual offenders, Bush said.
“We have a real problem in some counties of making sure that when violent crimes are committed by habitual offenders that sometimes they’re out on release to do it again before their trial starts,” Bush said.
Smith 34, died July 26, 1997, when a drunk driver slammed his white Mustang into the back of the trooper’s car near the Northwest 95th Street exit on Interstate 95. The cruiser burst into flames, killing Smith, a four-year veteran who had been part of the federally funded South Florida DUI Task Force.
The driver, Julio C. Gonzalez, 22 at the time, is serving a 15-year sentence. Merysabel Montero, president of the Miami-Dade chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the law might have saved Giovanny and Yanik Amador, 13 and 11, who died last week when a drunk driver with at least one previous DUI conviction and a suspended license rammed into their car. Eduardo Louis Galiana, 31, faces two counts of DUI/manslaughter among his charges.
“He would have been in prison and that’s it,” Montero said. Earlier in the day, Bush attended the Governor’s Forum “Engaging in a Civil Society” in Miami. The statewide forum, attended by about 200 people, examined the relationships of the state’s nonprofit organizations with government agencies and the for-profit business community. Participants came up with four recommendations:
Encourage the governor to convene a task force to look at performance-evaluation criteria for nonprofits that contract with the state government; Ask the governor to declare that all nonprofits have the right to advocate in the state; Get state agencies to publish information collected on nonprofits and philanthropies, including their economic impact; and
Work more closely with the media to highlight the role of nonprofits in the state. Serving as co-chairs of the event: Alan Levan, chairman and CEO of BankAtlantic, and Robin Reiter, vice president of human resources for The Miami Herald.