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The Florida House of Representatives sought to ease tension with Canadian tourists Tuesday by moving swiftly to repeal a law requiring them to have international driver’s permits when motoring on state roadways.
In terms of cross-border clashes, the dispute fell well short of the War of 1812. But the requirement, which quietly took effect Jan. 1, has led to long waits at Canadian automobile associations, where the $25 permits are issued.
“We can let everybody know our state is open for business and we can roll out the red carpet,” said Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, who is sponsoring the repeal effort (HB 7059) which drew preliminary approval Tuesday in the House.
Word of the new law spread last month, not only causing delays in Canada, but also raising concerns among Canadians already in the state. Some said they feared being pulled over by law enforcement on the lookout for north-of-the-border tags.
Sheila and Brian Sutherland, Toronto natives who spend three months each winter in Boynton Beach, said they stayed cooped up in their Quail Ridge home this winter after learning about the law.
They feared cops saying, “Whoa, Canada,” if they drove by.
“We did not leave the property until we found out that the police weren’t going to act on it until further notice,” said Sheila Sutherland, 65, who said her son-in-law waited three hours in line to get one of the international permits in Canada. “We take this seriously; we don’t want to break any laws.”
The Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles last month said it would not enforce the law, acknowledging it might violate an international standard created as part of the 1949 Geneva Convention.
More than 3 million Canadians visited Florida last year, an increase of 4 percent over 2011, state tourism officials said. The state also estimated Canadians spent $4.5 billion while in Florida.
The new law was approved last year by the Legislature after law enforcement complained about having to struggle to interpret driver’s licenses in various languages. The measure requires all U.S. visitors to have an international permit from their country of residence before they can drive on Florida roadways.
Sheila Sutherland said some of her friends who also visit from Canada are “most upset and offended,” by the law.
Virginia Michaud and her husband, James, spend winters in Greenacres. Michaud, 65, said she was more worried about how insurance companies would handle international visitors getting pulled over.
“I’m very glad it is being repealed; it was going to be a severe annoyance, if nothing else,” Virginia Michaud said. “We’re happy this is going to go away.”
She said she was shocked the law passed with the stipulations it had.
“I’m just surprised that nobody researches these things before this kind of legislation is passed, because it seems to violate the Geneva Convention rules for motorists,” Michaud said.
“I think they’re only rushing to get (the repeal) done (because) it became public to the point where they’re getting the backlash.” ___