TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a bill that will allow school districts to use cameras designed to capture images of drivers who illegally pass school buses.
The law (SB 766), which will take effect in July, could lead to drivers facing $225 fines if they get nabbed.
Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican who was one of five senators who voted against the measure last month, likened the proposal to red-light cameras, which have long been controversial.
“So I’m assuming this system that we’re setting up for the school-bus passing infractions, is that going to be similar to red-light cameras and how they are capturing the infraction and then levying the fines after it’s done administratively?” Ingoglia asked during a May 1 Senate discussion.
Senate bill sponsor Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, replied that the proposal would function “similar in the sense that we are talking about an enforcement camera” but pointed to differences.
“I look at this as slightly different than our red-light camera systems at an intersection where you’ve got a lot of things going on, that’s calling balls and strikes. Here, we have children getting on and off buses. And I don’t believe that this is a big-government problem. Because the seriousness of the problem is very real,” Burgess said.
The Florida Department of Education last year conducted a survey of school-bus drivers and found widespread instances of vehicles illegally passing stopped buses.
“The survey results from 2022 show that on a single day, 7,867 illegal passes were made based on the observations of 6,416 school bus drivers who completed the survey,” a Senate staff analysis of the bill said.
The bill will allow school districts to contract with companies to install cameras on school buses. Each camera will have to be capable of producing a recorded video and two or more still images documenting infractions. The law also will prevent the contractors from getting paid based on the numbers of violations detected.
School districts that take part will have to conduct a 30-day “public awareness campaign” about the cameras and will be required to put “high-visibility reflective signage” on buses. The signs, in part, will have to say, “CAMERA ENFORCED.”
Districts will be required to collect data about the systems, and the Department of Education will have to put together a report that will go to the governor and legislative leaders.
House records show that representatives of BusPatrol America LLC and Verra Mobility lobbied on the issue during the legislative session that ended May 5. Both companies offer bus-camera systems, according to their websites.
Several legislative supporters said the bill could help save lives, with Senate Rules Chairwoman Debbie Mayfield, R-Indialantic, pointing to an incident that happened in her district.
“In my community, we had a child hit. And what happened was (something) that should have never happened, and that is, the car went around the school bus and went through it, and the child was crossing in front of the school bus to go to the other side,” Mayfield said during the May 1 discussion.
“And there’s no way that we can patrol every single bus stop to make sure that does not happen. So if this (bill) just saves one life, it is worth doing,” Mayfield added.
Sen. Bobby Powell, D- West Palm Beach, argued that drivers have nothing to worry about if they don’t break the law and pass stopped buses.
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“It’s a pretty simple bill. If people don’t go past a school bus that has stop signs out, they simply won’t get a ticket,” Powell said.