School Bus Seat Belt Bill Clears Key Hurdle

Posted at 8:16 PM, Apr 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-04 21:16:42-04

For years, lawmakers in Tennessee have tried unsuccessfully to mandate seat belts be installed on school buses state wide, on Tuesday that proposal cleared a key hurdle as it passed out of the House Transportation Committee.

By a 9 to 7 vote, members of the House Transportation Committee approved the bill but it did not come without heated debate from both supporters and opponents. Multiple times during the hearing spectators could be heard applauding as Representative JoAnne Favor and Bo Mitchell, both Democrats, voices strong support for the measure.

Originally the legislation mandated that all school buses in Tennessee be retrofitted with seat belts and also required school districts to purchases buses with restraints starting in 2018. Lawmakers though balked at the plan because of a $70 million price tag attached to the proposal.

"You can not put a cost on the price of a life," Representative Favors said on Tuesday.

In order to keep the bill alive Favors, a Democrat from Chattanooga, amended the legislation to read that only buses purchased after 2019 have seat belts, it would no longer require buses currently in service be retrofitted with restraints. Officials now say the price tag on the bill is closer to $12 million.

"We could go down in history as having been concerned about the life of children instead of money," she pleaded with lawmakers on Tuesday.

A number of Republican lawmakers voiced opposition to the bill. Many were concerned that a state wide mandate would negatively impact budgets of smaller school districts.

"If my school board does not want to put those restraints on those buses that should be their choice," one lawmaker said during the hearing. 

Lawmakers have tried a handful of times in the past to get seat belts on buses but the price tag of the change has kept it from becoming a reality.

The bill will now move forward to the Education Administration Committee.