A school bus safety bill is now heading to Governor Rick Scott, after passing the Senate this week. But, it not only received bipartisan support, but some bipartisan opposition as well.
Cameron Mayhew, 16, was walking to his stopped school bus. The bus’ stop sign was out and its lights were flashing.
“A vehicle [then] illegally went through the stop of a school bus, struck Cameron Mayhew and killed him,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). “His parents have lived with that loss since last summer when this occurred, and it was their idea to give people an understanding of the trauma that you go through as a parent of a child who have been killed by an irresponsible driver.”
The driver who struck the Fort Myers High school student received what Mayhew’s parents call a “lenient” sentence: an initial estimated $300 fine later bumped up to $1,000, a six-months driver’s license suspension, and driving school.
Today, there are no enhanced penalties for passing a stopped school bus and injuring or killing another person.
So, Passidomo says on top of any charges brought forth by a prosecutor, her bill—also called the “Cameron Mayhew Act”—creates a minimum punishment.
“Senate Bill 1622 requires a driver who illegally passes a stopped school bus, resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person to serve 120 community service hours, participate in a victim’s impact panel, and it imposes a $1,500 fine along with a one-year license suspension, total of six points added to the person’s license for the incident,” she said.
Under the bill, the 120 hours of community service would have to be done in a hospital or trauma center. But, using an example, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) questioned Passidomo about that provision.
“Just so we understand, if someone is 80-years-old, and they were to make this…we would make the 80-year-old go to a trauma center and serve 120 hours at a trauma center. Is that correct,” asked Brandes, during the bill's last Senate committee hearing.
“That’s correct, and actually my dad is 94, and volunteers at a trauma center. And, it works for him, and he didn’t hit anybody,” Passidomo replied, at the time, to some laughter.
Still, while he understands the bill’s intent, Brandes says he believes the bill goes too far—regardless of age.
“You know, I can imagine how terrible and horrible I would feel if I were to do that or if someone I knew were to hit somebody coming off a school bus unintentionally, of course, but how traumatic that would be,” said Brandes, later on the Senate floor. “And, then to stack on top of that, the ability to have to go to a trauma center and to have that experience replayed over and over again, to me pushes that up to cruel and unusual.”
And, Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) expressed similar concerns on the Senate floor.
“I’m the daughter of a healthcare professional, and there was never any way that I was going to do anything related to needles, blood, or anything like that,” she said. “And, so, if I made a mistake, I know that there would be no way that I could function in a hospital or a trauma center. And, I’m not sure it would be fruitful for someone else who couldn’t either.”
But, Sen. Victor Torres (D-Orlando) says raising the penalties is crucial to deterring that behavior. In fact, a bill he filed this year stalled in the committee process to increase penalties from a civil violation to a reckless driving charge for people who pass a stopped school bus on the side where kids enter or exit.
“You’re looking a former school bus operator right here, children getting off my school bus in Marion County, that I did for 10 and a half years,” said Torres. “The lives of children—no matter how you look at it—we value, and we need to continue getting better bills and this is one of them. There are reckless drivers out there who don’t care. They do it every day. They pass these school buses.”
And, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) says the bill might even be therapeutic.
“I think too many times we just fine somebody and there’s no vehicle in which they can express remorse or restitution,” he said. “And, it’s just a settlement or some fine that you pay. So, I like the tangible part of a therapeutic model that you do something to help compensate for what’s occurred out of your negligence or mistake.”
And, the measure passed the Senate Monday 28 to 6. The “no” votes included Brandes and Gibson. And, since the bill also received unanimous passage in the House, it’s now awaiting the Governor’s approval.
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