Proposed Florida law could send you to jail for leaving your keys in the car

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – You’re in a rush to get somewhere, but you need to pick up something quickly from the gas station store, so you leave your car on and run inside.

Most of us have done this, especially in the Florida heat-or the wintry cold up North.

If one state lawmaker from the Bay Area has his way, this could soon be illegal.

Rep. Wengay Newton from St. Petersburg has introduced House Bill 927. The proposed law would make it a 2nd degree misdemeanor-punishable by up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail-if you leave your keys in your car and it’s stolen by a juvenile.

Newton says the bill is in response to the serious issue of auto thefts in Pinellas County. It is currently a non-moving traffic violation to leave your keys in the car while it’s running, but Newton said that’s not enough.

“Even if my bill doesn’t see the light of day, the current law on the books is not being enforced,” said Newton. “So they’re not going to enforce any law anybody brings forth, which is part of the problem and is helping create this epidemic.”

In 2016, more than 1,095 automobiles were stolen in St. Petersburg alone. Of the nearly 300 people arrested, 60 percent were juveniles.

Despite those numbers, many St. Pete residents are not in favor of the proposed law.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Judy Blank of South St. Petersburg. “People are gonna leave their keys in their car, and to make that the criminal act or misdemeanor is wrong.”

“Yeah it’s thoughtless and you shouldn’t do it,” said Bob Stevens, “but however it shouldn’t be against the law.”

Others who spoke off-camera said the law would be blaming victims.

But when challenged on that point on News Channel 8’s Sunday Political Show, Newton disagreed.

“If you are a law-abiding citizen,” Newton asked rhetorically, “and the current law on the books says you must not leave your current vehicle unattended with keys in it or unlocked, how could you be a victim?”

In mid-December, the bill was referred to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, and Judiciary Committee.

The 2018 legislative session begins next week.

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