Indiana school bus safety bill suffers a setback

INDIANAPOLIS (WNDU) - The MAXSTRONG school bus safety bill was weakened Thursday on the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives.

A bill that largely dealt with getting stop arms cameras on more Indiana school buses was stripped of any mere mention of them.

“Too many kids are going to die If we continue to do what we've been doing and not protecting them on school buses,” said Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, a co-sponsor of the bill but who will end up voting against it.

But others objected to language that would have allowed school corporations to install cameras now and pay for them later using fines collected from stop arm violators.

“I have a very strong philosophical opposition to revenue sharing with private companies out of criminal penalties or criminal fines,” said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, during Thursday's debate.

The bill was inspired by three young children who lost their lives last October while boarding a bus near Rochester.

In a written statement, the grandfather of the victims criticized the House for choosing to “dirty and greatly dilute a bill that was passed unanimously by the Indiana Senate.

In a telephone interview, the bill’s House author said he felt the measure was worth saving.

“We still have the requirement that schools pick up and drop off kids on the right side of the road on U.S. and state highways,” said Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver. “There are provisions to allow for petitioning of lowering of speed limits in certain areas that may be more particularly dangerous.”

While the bill would still increase the penalties for driving around activated stop arms, another amendment Thursday got rid of a provision stating that violators would automatically be handed a 90-day driver’s license suspension. The amended bill leaves a possible suspension in the hands of a judge.

The following is the full statement issued by Mike Schwab, the grandfather of the victims, with the MAXSTRONG foundation:

“Today the House of Representatives chose to pass an amendment that greatly reduces the opportunity for schools that desire to have stop arm cameras on their buses, but lack the funds to purchase and install them. This is both troubling and greatly disappointing and could not DISAGREE more with the decision. The INDIANA House has chosen to dirty and greatly dilute a bill that was passed UNANIMOUSLY by the Indiana Senate, which will now put MORE CHILDREN AT RISK of being hit by a driver that blows through a school bus stop arm. School bus stop arm cameras are an important component to improving school bus safety and we need to do whatever we can to help ALL SCHOOLS that desire these cameras. These cameras provide PRIMA FACIA evidence to assist with holding drivers that blow past school bus stop arms accountable which we feel would help to reduce and hopefully one day ELIMINATE near miss incidents where drivers blow past school bus stop arms putting children boarding and exiting at great danger.

With more than 3,000 such near misses in a single day and estimates of over 500,000 near misses in 2018, we should be open to help from wherever we can get it and worry more about ways to provide these important cameras to ALL school systems that desire them, rather than continue to focus on ways to restrict efforts to improve school bus safety for all children in Indiana.

We hope that the INDIANA HOUSE will take a pause and remember the commitment so many of them made after the tragedy on October 30th, 2018 that claimed the lives of my beautiful grandchildren, Alivia 9 yrs old and my twin grandsons Mason and Zxavier. Many legislators shared their sympathy for our family and said they would do everything they could at any expense to improve school bus safety for all children in Indiana in hopes of preventing such horrific tragedies from happening again. By passing the amendment today, the Indiana House only made it more difficult to provide these cameras and FAILED to live up to the commitment they made to the public to make the safety of children their TOP PRIORITY.

We hope the INDIANA HOUSE with a REPUBLICAN SUPER MAJORITY will resist further changes from the bill that was passed in the INDIANA SENATE UNANIMOUSLY by both the Senate Committee and the Full Senate and listen to the public and VOTE YES on Senate Bill #2 - The MAXSTRONG Bill. This bill has received overwhelming support from the Public, Bus Drivers, Transportation Directors, Emergency Responders, Police, Lawyers and more. My family and our MAXSTRONG FOUNDATION will continue to push for meaningful legislation and ask the public to voice your concerns and urge the Indiana House to "PASS THE SENATE VERSION OF 'SENATE BILL #2.'"