wkmg

WKMG instrumental in getting texting and driving bill signed into Florida law

news6.jpg

WKMG-TV is pleased to announce that after nearly three years leading the charge to change the texting and driving law in Florida, a new bill has been signed into law.

This new law will make texting and driving a primary offense, which allows law enforcement to stop motorists who are texting while driving and write them citations.

Florida was one of only four states left in the country in which texting and driving was not a primary offense.

“It was a long and hard fight,” News 6 anchor Matt Austin said. “But now after nearly three years, 100 stories, more than a dozen trips to Tallahassee, and thousands of miles driving around Florida to track down decision makers, I am relieved Florida politicians finally did the right thing. They made safety a priority."

Austin has been the one of the driving forces in changing the law -- and one of the most outspoken proponents of this new legislation.

Together with News 6, his quest to create change began one night in September 2016.

In his car on the way home after the 11 p.m. newscast, Austin was stopped at a red light. Suddenly, there was a blinding blow to the back of his head. He was knocked unconscious. Hit full-force by a driver who never even tapped his brakes, Austin had been rear-ended by a driver who admitted he was texting and driving.

The impact was so forceful it sent his little girl’s car seat directly into the back of his head. When he regained consciousness, bloody and in a state of confusion, Austin struggled to dial 911. His immediate thoughts were, "My three little girls are usually always sitting in the back seat!"

The driver who hit Austin was not ticketed for the crash. The police at the scene said there was nothing they could do under the existing law. While at home recuperating from a severe concussion and 10 stiches to his head, viewers began asking why Austin wasn't at the news desk. He shared his story via social media and the flood gates opened.

Austin heard from people who had experienced similar situations, and those who had even tragically lost loved ones. He knew he had to be their voice.

Austin’s journey to drive change began the very next day, a journey News 6 has called “Driving Change.” The initiative's goal has been to make texting and driving a primary offense in the state of Florida.

“We started by bringing awareness to the holes in the current texting and driving law,” WKMG news director Allison McGinley said. “Then we knew we had to share the stories of those who had been directly affected by texting and driving. That included our own Matt Austin, who testified before the Florida Legislature's Judiciary Committee in Tallahassee.”

“This crisis we have in our state right now of texting and driving wound up in my back seat,” Austin said before the Judiciary Committee.

“Matt Austin told his story and that of many Floridians endangered by those who text and drive," Vice President and General Manager Jeff Hoffman said. “His commitment to see this through over a nearly three-year battle represents the very best of all who get results for WKMG News 6.”

News 6 almost saw a victory in 2017, but the bills to toughen the texting and driving law died in both the state House and Senate committees. There was a glimmer of hope again in 2018 when the House overwhelmingly approved a bill that would finally make texting and driving a primary offense, but it was stalled in the Senate.

This year, both the House and the Senate worked to pass a bill to bring Florida in line with the 44 other states. That bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17, 2019.

“As a local television station, this is the role you hope you can play for the community you serve," Hoffman said. "You see a problem, and together with your neighbors, you work to solve it. When you can ultimately change laws that can save lives, well, that is what good journalism is all about. That is what being of service to your community is all about."

The entire timeline of Matt’s Austin’s fight to bring this bill into law can be found by clicking or tapping here.

WKMG lands major 'Celebration of Service to America' win

WKMG-pic.jpg

Graham Media Group's WKMG-TV has been selected as the "Service to Community" award-winner in the large-market television category, for its work serving as a legislative lifeline for first-responders.

The National Association of Broadcasters Leadership Foundation (NABLF), formerly the NAB Education Foundation, just this week revealed the winners of the 2019 Celebration of Service to America Awards, which recognize outstanding community service by local broadcasters.

WKMG-TV presented a series of investigative reports featuring first-responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, providing a platform for these men and women to expose the state’s failure to recognize PTSD as a real medical injury.

Under Florida law at the time, workers’ compensation insurance was not available for those diagnosed with PTSD unless they could prove they were also physically injured during the emergency call.

The station’s reporting began with the story of one of the officers assigned to remove the dead from the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

This segment led to a flood of responses from first-responders struggling with PTSD who had been afraid to come forward.

On March 27, 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders Act into law.

Scott said WKMG-TV’s reporting was instrumental in the passage and signing of the new law.

WKMG, among the other winners, will be honored at the Celebration of Service to America dinner, held June 11 at The Anthem, a riverside venue in Southwest Washington.

“America’s local radio and television stations have a deeply rooted commitment to public service,” said NABLF President Marcellus Alexander. “This year’s STA winners epitomize broadcasters’ devotion to positively impacting their communities and creating a lasting difference. We look forward to recognizing their exceptional work.”

From August 2016 through March 2018, WKMG-TV investigated and presented its series of reports. Florida first-responders and their families reached out to WKMG-TV to help them bring awareness to people quietly suffering with PTSD.

News 6's reporting marked an opportunity to build community awareness of the unseen injuries that left a trail of broken souls and suicides. It all began with Orlando Police Department first-responder Gerry Realin, one of the seven assigned to remove the dead from the Pulse Nightclub. His story led to a floodgate of first-responders struggling with PTSD, but afraid to come forward. That was the constant theme of the reporting, and the evidence was clear: These victims needed someone to recognize PTSD as a real illness deserving of medical compensation.

“Stories about the people affected made the difference," Scott said. "That’s how legislation gets passed.”