Tragedy revives legislator (and Haslam) interest in mandating school bus seat belts

After a three-fatality school bus accident in Knoxville, a Knoxville legislator proposed mandatory school bus safety belts legislation in the 2015 legislative session. The bill (HB770) failed.

After a five-fatality school bus accident in Chattanooga on Monday, at least two Chattanooga legislators – Democratic Rep. JoAnn Favors and Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick — are proposing mandatory school bus safety belts legislation be enacted in the 2017 session. And this time, Gov. Bill Haslam may be ready to join the effort.

From the Times-Free Press:

“It’s time to have that conversation” about Tennessee school bus safety, including seat belt requirements, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday.

“We had a wreck last year in Knoxville with a school bus, last week in Nashville, and obviously, the tragedy in Chattanooga,” Haslam said. “I think it’s time to have all the parties come to the table and have a thoughtful conversation about what can we do to make our school buses as safe as we can.”

… “I don’t want to point fingers who was against it (the 2015 bill) because of the expenses,” McCormick said. “I’m sure it will be expensive. But this is an area where the state should certainly step in and help with the expenses and not [make local systems] shoulder the entire burden.”

The lawmaker added: “It’s unfortunate it took a tragedy like this to focus attention on it, but sometimes that’s what it takes to wake people up.”

Favors, the House Democratic minority whip, said she would introduce legislation to require seat belts in school buses when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

She, too, noted a school bus seat belt bill was proposed in response to a December 2014 Knoxville school bus crash that killed two students and a teacher’s aide. The bill was shipped off for summer legislative study in 2015.

It went nowhere in 2016, despite being restricted to only purchases of new school buses and extending the implementation date.

…McCormick said that with booming state surpluses during the last fiscal year, the state can afford a one-time expenditure for current bus fleets maintained by local school districts. And there should be money going forward as well to require new buses to have the safety features, he said.

“If you have the money, I can’t think of a better place to put it for our children going to and from school,” McCormick said.

Note: A further Haslam quote,  from WTVF-TV: “Traditionally, school buses have been the responsibility of the local education authorities, the counties and their school boards,” he said. “If the state passed a new law regarding that, would we take on some of the financial obligation. I think that is all to be discussed.”

The News Sentinel has a story on a UT professor promoting school bus seat belts, HERE. And from the look-back machine, here a News Sentinel story on introduction of the failed bill last session (bt then-Rep. Joe Armstrong) is HERE. House Speaker Beth Harwell tried similar legislation back in 2007.

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