MINNEAPOLIS — A proposed bill would increase the fine and penalty for motorists who pass or attempt to pass a school bus when a child is near the outside of the bus and make it tougher to plea down the charge.

The bill, HF 1948, states that a motorist who fails to stop for a school bus on the right side or when a child is outside of the bus on the roadway or adjacent sidewalk used by the bus is guilty of a misdemeanor. The violator could receive a fine of at least $500 and be required to complete a driver improvement clinic.

The current penalty is a $300 fine for a motorist. Rep. Dean Urdahl, who authored the bill, confirmed with SBF that if the bill were to pass, the fine would go up to $500, and ticketed drivers would be required to attend traffic school.

Most importantly, HF 1948 would prohibit courts from lowering the charge, thereby reducing the penalties, Urdahl said.

The idea for the bill was brought to Urdahl for consideration by the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association (MSBOA). As a former teacher, he thought it would be an important step in helping to ensure student safety, he said.

Shelly Jonas, executive administrator for MSBOA, told SBF the organization has been working on this issue for the last two years and contacted Urdahl about authoring the bill, including adding the traffic school requirement and raising the fine, which would make it tougher for a violator to plea down the charge.

“We’ve been trying to focus some of our energies on how to get people charged out,” Jonas explained. “This session we decided to try raising the penalties and make it so that it can’t get pled down to a lesser charge.”

She pointed to a significant disparity between the number of stop-arm violators caught during the nationwide National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation one-day stop-arm survey and how many tickets written for the violation have been fully prosecuted.

“We have 300 violations in one day,” she said. “At the end of the year, when we look at how many tickets have been written and fully prosecuted, there’s [about] 300, so something happens between when people go through the stop arm and the end result. These people aren’t getting prosecuted.”

Urdahl echoed her point, adding that the survey showed there are about 72,000 stop-arm violations in a year in Minnesota.

One case in the state that was prosecuted was that of truck driver Allen Morris, who was accused of illegally passing a school bus on the right side and nearly striking a young student last year. Morris pled guilty to a gross misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year in county jail, two years of probation and a $1,000 fine.

HF 1948 was first read in a House committee in mid-March. If passed, the bill would go into effect on Aug. 1.

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