School bus safety bill passes unanimously, again

INDIANAPOLIS (WNDU) - Indiana lawmakers were again unanimous in their support of the Never Again/MAXSTRONG school bus safety bill Monday.

The Indiana House of Representatives voted 87-0 in favor of the measure, although it was a different version than the one unanimously passed by the Senate in February.

“The goal of this bill is improve safety by sending a clear message to the public that passing a stopped school bus with a stop arm extended is completely unacceptable,” said Ind. Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver, from the floor of the House.

The get-tough attitude at the Statehouse was inspired by three young siblings in Fulton County who were struck by a passing car while trying to board their bus last October.

The get-tough language in the bill would make a first offense of failure to stop when a stop arm is down a misdemeanor instead of a mere traffic violation.

Such a first offense could further land a driver a license suspension of up to 90 days, although in the Senate version, the license suspension would have been mandatory.

“I think it is regrettable that we don't and didn't support cameras so it would be the foolproof identification of people who would do such a careless, reckless act,” Ind. Rep. B. Patrick Bauer added from the House floor.

One key item removed from the bill in the House was a way to make it easier to get stop arm cameras installed on buses by allowing the fines of violators to be used to pay for the equipment.

Michael Schwab, the grandfather of the child victims originally said the move served to “dirty and greatly dilute” the bill. In a more recent statement, the family said the bill “may not be perfect” but that it was a “great first step.”

The bill is likely to go to a conference committee that will try and reconcile the differences in the House and Senate versions that were passed.

Here is the full content of the statement released by the family of the bus crash victims, including mother Brittany Stahl:

“It is with great joy we learned today that the Indiana House passed Senate Bill #2 - The MAXSTRONG Bill UNANIMOUSLY!

After this horrible tragedy, we were not sure how to move forward. Shane, My Father and Myself have worked tirelessly to raise attention to need to improve School Bus Safety and have supported Senator Head and this Bill since its inception.

This bill is a great first step to both improving school bus safety for ALL children in Indiana. One important way this will be achieved is that "The MAXSTRONG Bill" will prohibit schools from requiring children to cross highways to board or exit their school bus.

The MAXSTRONG Bill also helps with improving the safety of our children by taking greater steps to hold those accountable who blow past school bus stop arms putting our children in danger, through increased penalties such as making it a Misdemeanor as opposed to an infraction and increasing penalties for those who fail to stop for the school bus stop arms.

We THANK Senator Head and all those in the INDIANA SENATE & HOUSE that have supported our family and supported this bill passing it UNANIMOUSLY in both the SENATE and HOUSE and all that they have done in helping to bring this important piece of Legislation one step closer to becoming law.”