Child care centers that use vans or cars to transport children would have to install alarm systems that should prevent drivers from forgetting children in the back seat under a bill approved Thursday by the Florida Senate.
A similar but not identical bill was approved in the House last month, so the two bills will have to be reconciled before heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis for a signature.
Senate Bill 94, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando, and House Bill 69, which rolled in portions of an earlier bill from Democratic State Rep. Bruce Antone of Orlando, were responses to a series of tragedies in which children forgotten in vans suffered fatal heat exposure and died, particularly a high-profile case in Orlando in 2017. This was the second year the pair had filed bills on the topic.
Stewart said Florida has the second highest fatality rate in the nation of children left in vehicles.
Her bill was approved 37-1, with just Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg voting no. Earlier, SB 94 had cleared four committees without a nay vote.
On Thursday the bill received its strongest argument from co-sponsor state Sen. Victor Torres, another Orlando Democrat, who also once worked as a school bus driver.
“This is serious. I hope everybody is paying attention on this car alarm because children have been dying because of lack of following up and checking their vehicles,” Torres said. “I for one drove a school bus in Marion County. And I had little ones on my bus. And I knew that I counted the little ones as they got off the bus every day to make sure I didn’t leave them on the bus. Every operator is responsible for the safety of their kids…. I know what it’s like on a hot day.”