Last year’s school bus safety bill, which increases penalties against motorists who illegally pass school buses, is one of several laws taking effect with the new year.
In part, the minimum penalty for motorists who fail to stop for school buses increases from $100 to $200 and the minimum penalty for motorists who pass stopped school buses on the side where children enter and exit doubled from $200 to $400. The law also doubles the minimum and maximum license suspension for repeating those offenses. Failing to stop will draw a 180-day to one-year suspension while passing on the exit door side will lead to a 360-day to two-year suspension.
A somewhat similar bill failed to gain traction during the 2019 Legislative Session.
“This is an important piece of legislation for our community,” House sponsor Ardian Zika told Florida Politics. “This legislation sends a loud and clear message that the Florida House of Representatives takes the safety of our children seriously.”
The Land O’ Lakes Republican has five children between the ages of 3 and 13.
“Protecting children is the single most important thing for our community,” he said. “Parents need to know that we are looking out for them.”
Before the House approved the measure in February, Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat, said he was “reluctantly” supporting the bill because he thought the proposed fines are too high.
“We’re fining someone up to $400 because they look away for a second, maybe because their kids are fighting in the back seat, and they don’t see that they’re passing a school bus that’s stopped,” Geller said during the February debate. “That’s just too high. It’s just too much money to be charging for what is likely to be an inadvertent mistake.”
Such arguments drew pushback from Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat who co-sponsored the bill in the House.
“I heard concern about the $400 cost being too expensive for violators,” Slosberg said. “Why should we care more about the violator’s pocket than the value of our children’s lives?”
Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who is a retired firefighter and EMT, sponsored the Senate version of the bill. In an interview with Florida Politics, he recalled responding to school bus accidents during his time as a first responder.
“When the school bus stops and kids come running to mom and dad, kids don’t always look both ways, pay attention to oncoming traffic,” the Senator said. “Hopefully this will make people think twice.”
Hooper wishes there was a more effective way to enforce laws against passing stopped school buses. While he said he errs on the side of safety in the red light camera debate, one pitch he declined to file for the 2021 Session would install cameras in school buses to automatically issue tickets for illegally passing a bus when it’s stopped.
“That would have to be someone else’s fight,” Hooper said.