SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers have approved a bill that would require school buses in the state to be equipped with child-check reminder alarm systems in response to the death of a special-needs student who had been left on the bus for several hours.
After hearing testimony from the parents of Paul Lee, a special-needs student from Whittier who tragically passed away in September after being left unattended on his school bus, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee approved SB 1072, authored by Sen. Tony Mendoza, on a unanimous bipartisan vote of 10 to 0, according to a press release from Mendoza’s office.
The bill, known as the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law,” would require school buses in California to be equipped with child-check reminder alarm systems to ensure that children are not left on buses unattended and in potentially hazardous circumstances. It would also require bus drivers, upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate, to receive training in child safety check procedures.
“No parent should fear that their child will not return home safely at the end of the day,” Mendoza said. “My hope is that SB 1072 will prevent future tragedies by requiring every school bus in the state to be equipped with a child-safety alarm system.”
If signed into law, SB 1072 would:
• Require all school buses to be equipped with an operational child-check reminder alarm system that prompts the driver to inspect all seats before leaving the bus. The system must be approved by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and hard-wired into the vehicle’s electrical system and activated when the ignition is turned on.
• Require drivers upon a renewal of their annual school bus driver safety certificate to receive training in child safety check procedures.
• Add a reporting requirement to ensure that the Department of Motor Vehicles is notified of cases when a child is left on a bus unattended.
• Direct the CHP to promulgate rules to implement this section and provide a list of child-safety alarms that are approved for use in school buses and a qualified technician or mechanic that can install the system.
• Grant school districts and school bus contractors a grace period of eight months after the date that the CHP issues the rules to install a child safety alarm system.
"Paul loved to go to school and when he took his seat on the school bus on Sept. 11, 2015, I believed he was in safe hands,” said Eun Ha Lee, Paul Lee’s mother. “But on that day, he was not safe. He was left on that hot school bus for many hours and due to the carelessness of others, my son lost his life. Paul's death should never have happened and I will remain vigilant that it will not be without change. When a child boards a school bus, there should never be a fear of them being left behind. Senate Bill 1072 is the first step in backing up our words with actions and I want to thank Sen. Mendoza for authoring it. Knowing this bill has been written in his name will put a smile on Paul's face in heaven."
Before Tuesday’s hearing, a press conference in support of SB 1072 was held at the Capitol with the Lee family, Sen. Mendoza, advocates, and two yellow school buses to demonstrate child-check reminder alarm systems.
“It is vital that we do everything we can to protect the many thousands of children transported daily to and from school,” Mendoza added. “It is my hope that we can find some meaning in the recent tragic loss of a Whittier student on a school bus, in the form of meaningful change that will safeguard other children. It should not take events like this one to spur us into action on these issues.”
Watch video of the press conference below.