Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan that could lead to more death sentences for those who kill law enforcement officers or emergency responders cleared the House this week.

Buchanan's "Thin Blue Line Act," approved Thursday, makes killing a police officer, firefighter or other first responder an "aggravating factor" that juries must consider when contemplating whether to sentence a defendant to death.

“The country needs to send a strong message that targeting police officers or first responders will not be tolerated,” Buchanan said in a statement.

Buchanan cited the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which indicates 50 officers have been killed so far this year — a 39 percent increase from the same period last year. Buchanan's bill only applies to murders that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The legislation has not passed the Senate.

Buchanan this week also touted the area's receipt of federal anti-drug funds distributed by the state to battle heroin and opioid use. The money was allocated to seven “managing entities” — groups selected by Gov. Rick Scott — to distribute $18 million for treatment of people with substance abuse problems, his office noted in a press release. About $6 million will be divided among 14 counties, including Sarasota and Manatee.

The funding is part of a $485 million national allocation included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which Buchanan supported. Florida received $27 million in federal aid, including the $18 million allocated to communities to provide treatment for addiction. The remaining $9 million will be used to purchase naloxone kits, hire behavioral health specialists and for other anti-drug services.

President Barack Obama signed the bill in December.  

USFSM professors receive Google grant

Two USF Sarasota-Manatee professors have received a $35,000 Google grant to bolster the skills of computer science teachers at local high schools. Giti Javidi and Ehsan Sheybani will use the grants to hold a five-day workshop in June and for a yearlong mentoring program.

Their aim is to promote the development of Advanced Placement Computer Science courses in local high schools, the school said in a news release. The effort comes as the state and Gov. Rick Scott are placing greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Only 20 slots are available for the workshop, which will be June 26-June 30 at USFSM, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Registration for the program began Friday.

For more information or to apply, contact Jennifer Sams, jsams@edfoundationsrq.org, or Javidi at javidi@usf.edu.

Sarasota County bus driver, attendant honored 

A Sarasota County school bus driver and attendant were honored by the School Board following their actions after an accident.

Driver Dan Dunn and attendant Chris Dunn, who are husband and wife, received the first "Sarasota County Schools Hero Award." 

On April 11, Dan Dunn was driving and Chris Dunn was assisting 12 students with special needs as their bus approached the intersection of Proctor and Gantt roads in Sarasota, near Oak Park School, when a driver pulled out and struck the bus.

“It was like an explosion when it happened,” Dan Dunn said in a district news release. 

The bus hit a light pole near a sidewalk. Dan said he saw Chris on the floor with blood running down her face and smoke filling the bus. He remembers that Chris said, “We’ve got to get these kids out of here.” Chris later said, “It’s because I’m a mama. Your kids come first.”

The Dunns have been married for 36 years; they have three adult children and five grandchildren. 

Oak Park Principal Edwina Oliver said that when she heard about the accident, her fear was that there would be serious injuries or even fatalities. “But the Dunns got every single student off the bus and into the arms of helpful neighbors and first responders. I don’t say this lightly — I really think they saved students’ lives that day.”

Some students and the Dunns sustained minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. Most were released the same day.

Before presenting the award at a School Board meeting, Assistant Superintendent-Chief Operations Officer Scott Lempe noted that Dan was concerned because the timing was in the middle of the couple’s afternoon bus route.

“Dan asked, ‘Is there someplace near the meeting room where I can park the bus?’" Lempe said. "I think those concerns really speak to their character.”