school buses

Four school bus drivers face 30 days in jail for using electronic devices under new TN law

Four now-former Knox County school bus drivers who allegedly used electronic devices while behind the wheel face mandatory 30-day jail terms if convicted under a tough new law, reports the News Sentinel.

They are charged via recently unsealed grand jury presentments under a state law passed following the death of two Sunnyview Primary School students and a teacher’s aide in Knox County in December 2014 caused by a driver who was texting while driving.

The quartet of drivers are accused in separate incidents of using electronic devices — the exact nature of which hasn’t been revealed yet — during Knox County Schools’ spring semester.

The cases are Knox County’s first legal test of that law, and the second in the state. A Hamilton County grand jury in March leveled the charge — along with vehicular homicide — in a fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga in December 2016 that killed six children.

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Haslam: I’ll be thinking about school bus seat belts for a year or so

While he didn’t support mandatory school seat belt legislation this year, Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll be thinking about doing so maybe next year, reports the Times Free Press.

Failing in the 2017 legislative session was a bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, to require that new buses put into service starting in 2919. Approved was a measure backed by the governor that calls for more training of school bus drivers and sets some new standards for the job.

“We’re going to continue to do work to say, ‘Are they the right answer today?'” the governor said last week to reporters. “And if they are, then we’ll figure out the financial piece. But as you know, there’s quite a bit of disagreement about whether seat belts were the right thing to do just from a safety standpoint.”

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Haslam on school bus seat belts: I’m not for the bill, but would sign it

Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill responding to a fatal school bus wreck in Chattanooga last year has been moved ahead without opposition but he’s staying out of a more controversial debate over whether the vehicles should be required to have seat belts, reports the Times-Free Press.

The governor told reporters that his administration is “technical deferred” on HB395 by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga. His bill (HB322) won unanimous House approval Monday. Favors’ bill has cleared a couple of key committees on close votes, but still has a long way to go.

“I think there’s a big discussion back and forth in the Legislature,” Haslam said. “Deferred means if they pass it, we’ll sign it and figure out a way to fund it. But we’re not actively engaged in that one. The proposal we made was the proposal that we obviously wanted to make certain would happen.”

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Bill on school bus seat belts clears House panel 9-7

A bill requiring Tennessee school buses to be equipped with seat belts cleared the House Transportation Committee with a 9-7 vote Tuesday amid concerns over costs and other factors. The bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, (HB395) was prompted by a Nov. 21, 2016, school bus crash that killed six Chattanooga children.

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Bill mandating school bus seat belts clears first vote

A bill requiring all Tennessee school buses be equipped with safety restraint systems by mid-2023 cleared its first House hurdle Wednesday, report the Times-Free Press. The voice vote came after two Chattanooga physicians gave dramatic testimony about the “terrible night” in November when a Hamilton County school bus crashed, killing six children and injuring others.

“I truly believe that the pain of those families and suffering of their children could have been prevented or lessened,” Dr. Alan Kohrt, a pediatrician and chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, told Transportation Subcommittee members.

He said that included not just the seat belt bill (HB395) sponsored by Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, but another Favors bil (HB127)l. It requires school bus drivers be at least 25 years old and have had a five-year clean driving history before getting licensed by the state to transport students.

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Haslam’s school bus safety bill doesn’t require seat belts

Gov. Bill Haslam and Rep. JoAnne Favors have dueling approaches to address safety concerns following the Nov. 21 crash of a school bus in Chattanooga in which six Woodmore Elementary School students died, reports the Times-Free Press.

Haslam introduced legislation Wednesday that seeks to address age requirements for school bus drivers as well as mandate new procedures for school systems, bus drivers and companies to follow. (Note: It’s HB322, sponsored by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, at the administration’s request.)

But the governor’s approach omits a requirement that Favors wants that new school buses have safety belt restraint systems.

Favors, D-Chattanooga, said her bill, which she intends to introduce shortly, would require that after July 1, 2018, that new buses owned, operated or leased by public or private school systems have restraint systems that are federally approved. 

Her intent is to phase in the requirement so that school systems and contract drivers or companies wouldn’t be faced with huge expenses on the front end.

Meanwhile, Favors said she agreed to introduce a bill, filed earlier today, that only addresses new age requirements for drivers and driver backgrounds. That was done at the request of Senate Minority Lee Harris, D-Memphis, Favors said.

The Chattanooga lawmaker said that’s not her seat belt bill and that she won’t be deterred by the governor’s preferred approach that rejects calls for school bus seat belts.

“No, absolutely not,” Favors said. “It’s needed because you do need restraints. I’m hoping it will pass [this year], but if doesn’t it will involve us all in dialogue about this. 

“And,” the representative added, “we’ll just keep doing it until we get it passed.”

Cohen bill would provide fed funding for school bus seat belts

News release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today introduced the Bring Enhanced Liability in Transportation for Students (BELTS) Act to help protect children who ride on school buses. The bill would create federal grants to purchase new school buses with lap/shoulder seat belts or equip existing ones with such belts and creates federal grants to equip school buses with motion-activated detection systems.

The bill would also direct the Secretary of Transportation to withhold 10% of a state’s apportionment of certain federal-aid highway funds if the state has not enacted a law that requires the employer to conduct background checks before hiring school bus drivers. Finally, the bill would direct the Secretary to withhold 10% of federal highway funding if the state has not enacted and is not enforcing a law that imposes specified first offense and second offense civil or criminal penalties for motorists found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus.

“Last month’s horrific school bus crash that killed six children in Chattanooga, Tennessee was a wake-up call,” said Congressman Cohen. “When it comes to protecting our school children, safety must come first. To date, only six states require seat belts on school buses. When I was in the Tennessee State Senate, I sponsored a bill to require seat belts on school buses, yet it was opposed by the industry and never received a vote in committee.

“On average, there are 134 school-transportation-related fatalities per year. Seat belts, background checks for drivers and other measures could help reduce future disasters. I urge my colleagues to support this common sense legislation to protect our children riding on school buses.”

Further, from the News Sentinel:

The bill is largely symbolic, as it was filed just days before Congress is expected to adjourn for the year. Cohen will likely have to reintroduce it next year.

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong proposed a similar bill in the Tennessee General Assembly after the rollover bus crash that killed two children and a teacher’s aide in Knoxville in 2014. Armstrong’s bill died in the Transportation Committee due to opposition over expenses, he said Wednesday. He said he believes Cohen is “definitely moving in the right direction,” but “has an uphill battle.”

“How many more tragedies do we need to have?” Armstrong said. “Although I’m not in the Legislature anymore, I’m still an advocate out here in the public that seat belts save lives.”

Armstrong said his 2014 research placed the cost at around $9,000 to equip a new bus with seat belts and around $13,000 to retrofit a bus with seat belts. Those figures were too high for contracted school bus operators who opposed the bill, he said.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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