Florida lawmakers cracking down on ‘pop-up’ events

Car Meet Pop-Up Events — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Chawapon Wongchuen

Authorities may be able to double fines and impound vehicles for days on noncriminal traffic infractions to crackdown on sizable unsanctioned events put together on social media, under a measure heading to the Senate floor.

Bill sponsor Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, said the proposal (SB 1954) would not apply to protests but is specifically designed to help manage “out of control” social media “pop-up” events. The Senate Rules Committee approved the bill.

“With the internet being so popular, we are having people put together events that are unsanctioned and saying basically, ‘Come to this area, and let’s party like it’s 1999,’” Wright said. “And our law enforcement’s hands are tied to do much about it.”

The proposal would allow authorities to declare certain areas as “special event zones” in response to any unpermitted events that are promoted through social media platforms and are anticipated to attract over 200 people, eventually leading to a disruption of traffic. The zones could cover entire cities.

The bill would double fines for noncriminal traffic infractions within the event zones and allow law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 72 hours for violating traffic.

The proposal would also allow local governments to compose more stringent regulations than what is in current state law about vehicle radios or other sound-making devices.

The proposal is supported by the Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida and is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. 

The bill was called “crazily overly broad and wildly disruptive” by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

“If you cross a lane without putting your blinker on, you get fined, it’s doubled. And we can impound your car, which seems a little bit intense,” Brandes said.

A legislative staff analysis stated that local governments would be able to recover from organizers or promoters relevant costs and fees tied to special event zones, from sanitation to law enforcement, even if the events are canceled.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, questioned the impact on spring break if people are faced with impounded cars and arrests.

But Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who voiced his support for the bill, said the measure could help local governments when “these things happen out of control.”

“Anything that would eliminate chaos in a party state is helpful,” Baxley said

Wright said the catalyst of the proposal was a truck meet last year in Daytona Beach that created major gridlock on Florida A1A.

“Pop-up events are happening where someone goes online and says, ‘Come to a particular area and bring your dirt bikes, bring your jacked-up trucks, bring some sort of vehicle and break all kinds of laws and stop traffic, start fights,’” Wright said.

He added that people in Daytona Beach were “shooting each other from truck to truck. They were going across yards, tearing up yards with their big tires. They were going onto the beach putting sand on people that were there sunbathing.”

A similar measure (HB 1435) by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, has cleared two panels and currently awaits an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

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