RICHMOND, Va. — State lawmakers are considering bills that would reduce training time requirements for some drivers and allow advertising on parts of school buses, and they rejected a bill that would require seat belts on new buses.
SB 557 would cut down on the number of training hours needed by some experienced bus drivers to operate a school bus in the state.
Instead of the current 24 hours of classroom training and 24 hours of behind-the-wheel training required by the Virginia Department of Education, the bill would require four hours of classroom training and three hours of behind-the-wheel training for drivers who already have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or were previously trained and approved to operate a school bus (which would include having a valid CDL and P and S endorsements). Applicants without a CDL would be required to undergo at least 24 hours of classroom training and six hours of behind-the-wheel training.
The bill, proposed by Sen. Emmett Hanger, passed unanimously in the Senate last week and is currently under review by the House Education Committee. SB 557 and its companion bill in the House, HB 914, were created to address a statewide driver shortage while maintaining safety standards, Hanger’s office told WHSV. The office also told the news source that training requirements were decreased for experienced drivers with a valid CDL and bus driving experience in an effort to eliminate duplication of coursework in the licensing process.
Meanwhile, HB 809 would permit school boards in Virginia to display advertisements on school buses between the rear wheels and the rear of the bus, as long as the material doesn’t obstruct the name of the school division or number of the bus; is not sexually explicit; and is not related to gambling, politics, tobacco, or alcohol. Advertising for food or beverages that don’t meet nutrition standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 would also be prohibited.
The bus ad bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Israel O’Quinn, is aimed at helping to close budget gaps, according to WTOP. O’Quinn told the news source that school divisions could use the money as they see fit.
The proposed bill has failed in the past, The Virginian-Pilot reports, but this time it is more focused on what types of ads would be allowed. The newspaper also noted that the group Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood has opposed similar measures in other states, arguing that the effects are detrimental and that the revenue from the ads only covers a fraction of school budgets.
The House Education Committee approved HB 809 on Friday, and it was assigned to the Senate Public Education Committee on Wednesday.
Additionally, lawmakers rejected HB 224, which would have required lap-shoulder belts on new school buses in Virginia.
Under the proposed bill, school boards would have been required to ensure that every school bus was equipped with lap-shoulder belts in every seat no later than July 1, 2036.
Those opposed to the seat belt bill referred to it as an unfunded mandate, and House members questioned whether the belts would make loading and unloading students take longer, placing an extra burden on drivers, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
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