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.”

Haslam’s bill avoided the seat belt issue entirely. Instead, it raises school bus drivers’ minimum age from 21 to 25 and imposes new training and reporting requirements on public and charter schools in regard to school bus transportation.

Favors’ bill would require safety-restraint systems on all new public and private buses ordered or purchased beginning July 1, 2019.

Her bill cleared its third House hurdle Tuesday when it won approval on a voice vote in the House Administration and Planning Committee. It’s now been sent to the Government Operations Committee.

“I’m really excited about it and I think the plethora of evidence that supports the restraint systems in school buses, I think everybody’s seen that now,” Favors, D-Chattanooga, said. The Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, is in the Senate Finance Committee.

The legislation put forth by both Haslam and Favors was prompted by the Nov. 21 crash of a Woodmore Elementary School bus in Brainerd that killed six students.

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