NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two bills that are intended to address school bus safety in the wake of a fatal crash in November have advanced in the state House of Representatives.
A bill backed by Gov. Bill Haslam, HB 322, which would raise the state’s minimum age for new school bus drivers from 21 to 25, as well as increase oversight of school transportation services and training for new drivers, passed the House unanimously with a vote of 96 to 0 on Monday.
Johnthony Walker, the school bus driver in the Nov. 21 crash in Chattanooga that killed six students and injured 31 students, was 24 at the time. Parents and students had reportedly complained about Walker’s driving before. He was indicted on six counts of vehicular homicide in March and faces several other charges.
HB 322 is similar to another piece of legislation that was introduced by Rep. JoAnne Favors: HB 127. That bill, which also proposed increasing the minimum age requirement for school bus drivers to 25, was removed from consideration in the House Transportation Committee last week.
Meanwhile, HB 395, also introduced by Favors, would require school buses bought after July 1, 2019, to be equipped with “a restraint system” for passengers. That bill passed through the House Education and Administration Planning Committee on Tuesday and has been referred to the House Government Operations Committee.
HB 395 had initially listed July, 1, 2018, as the date for the restraint requirement for new school buses, and it also had a clause that would have required retrofitting of existing school buses, which was recently removed.
HB 395 is opposed by some school districts, bus drivers, and lawmakers, Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, chairwoman of the Transportation Subcommittee, raised concerns about the bill’s costs and the ability of young children to free themselves in the event of a crash or fire, according to the newspaper.
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