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Hillsborough transit agency to lead efforts to pass new worker safety initiative

A bill would impose stricter penalties for people who attack or threaten transit workers.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is taking the agency lead on legislation aimed at reducing violence against transit workers and other uniformed public employees throughout the state.

The organization is working with Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Mike Beltran to promote 2020 legislation (SB 1416 and HB 951) to reduce attacks or threats against public servants in the workplace.

The proposed legislation could require protective barriers on public transit vehicles. HART is nearly complete with installation of such barriers on its fleet after one of its bus drivers was violently slain last year after a bus rider approached him from behind and slit his throat.

The bill would also require transit agencies to post easily seen notifications about the maximum penalty for assaulting a transit worker and increase penalties for such attacks, as well as those on law enforcement and first responders, from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony.

It would also require mandatory training for drivers on how to de-escalate potentially violent situations.

“Over the past seven months, one HART bus driver in Tampa has been murdered and another violently attacked, while operating public transit buses,” Beltran said. “I filed this legislation in an effort to help keep people safe through tougher penalties for threats of violence, protective barriers for drivers, and increased training to help defuse potential threats.”

Beltran is joining the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593 group and HART officials for a press conference Tuesday to address the important of such public safety legislation. The press conference begins at 9:30 a.m. in the State Capitol rotunda.

“Transit should be a safe and viable option for all communities. Any efforts we can take to make sure that drivers, passengers, and the community are safer is a win-win for everyone,” said Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

The Florida Public Transportation Association also supports the legislation.

“We believe that these efforts will not only keep our operator’s safer, but, will increase the safety for all of our passengers, as well,” said Lisa Bacot, the group’s executive director.

The proposed legislation is similar to federal legislation the Amalgamated Transit Union is pushing with House Resolution 1139.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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