State lawmakers are set to consider legislation that would mandate increased safety measures for bus drivers and strengthen criminal penalties for passengers who become violent.
State senator Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, and representative Mike Beltran, R-Hillsborough, are sponsoring a pair of bills (SB 1416 and HB 951) that would make initiatives created by the Hillsbrough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) mandatory statewide.
In 2019, two Tampa bus drivers were assaulted while on duty. In November, long-time HART driver Schnaider Prophete was hospitalized after being attacked by a passenger armed with a boxcutter and mace. Another driver, Thomas Dunn, died from injuries sustained after being stabbed while on duty in May.
"Over the past seven months, one HART drver in Tampa has been murdered and another violently attacked while operating public transit buses," Beltran said in a press release. "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 diffuse potential threats."
If passed, the Uniformed Public Servant Protection Act would:
- require the installation of protective barriers on public transit
- require the posting of the maximum penalty for assaulting a transit worker
- require mandatory training designed to help transit workers de-escalate potentially violent situations.
- reclassify assault on a uniformed public official, previously considered a first degree misdemeanor, as a third degree felony.
Since the attacks, HART has pushed for greater driver safety. The transit authority installed over $1 million of tempered glass shields across its fleet of 180 buses and partnered with the Hillsborough County Sherrif's Office to provde drivers with de-escalation and situational awareness training.
Now HART officials hope that state legislators will push other transit agencies to do the same, as well as enact harsher penalties for perpetrators of violent incidents.
"As chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, I felt compelled to address the recent acts of violence and threats of violence against uniformed public servants," said Perry. "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."
The Uniformed Public Servant Protection Act is one of over 3,000 bills under consideration for the 2020 Florida legislative session which begins Tuesday.