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.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

It now goes to the Education Administration Planning Committee where, legislators say, the going may get tougher.

Favors, a retired nurse, told colleagues “there’s plenty of scientific evidence to prove that restraints on school buses will minimize injuries and fatalities.”

The lawmaker said she tried to address her original bill’s “astronomical costs” to state government and local school systems. Changes push back the implementation mandate a year so that new school buses would have to come equipped with safety restraint systems beginning July 1, 2019. And they delete the requirement that all buses must have the safety belts as of July 1, 2023. They also eliminate a seat belt retrofitting provision.

Legislative analysts’ fiscal note on the original bill estimated a state cost of nearly $12 million a year over five years, with a $70 million per year cost over six years for school districts. Favors’ changes would increase state expenditures by $2.15 million a year going forward, with the money going to local schools. Local schools’ cost would be $12.91 million annually going forward.

Legislative analysts estimate schools replace about 600 buses a year. There are an estimated 9,000 buses owned by districts or by their contractors.

Citing the bill’s costs, Chairman Barry Doss, R-Lawrenceburg, suggested to Favors that she not proceed with the measure this year and “try to get funding next year.”

But Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, drew applause from Chattanooga parents, grandparents and Woodmore students when he pointed to the state’s $1 billion budget surplus and said “we have an opportunity to do something for the safety of children today and not push it down the road again.

“We got a problem in front of us that we can solve here and now,” Mitchell said. “And I think it’s time for action.

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