Local school districts address new state bus law

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Starting this fall, school districts across the state will have to comply with a new Texas law regarding seat belts on new school buses.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 693 into law June 15, requiring any new school buses purchased by school districts to include seat belts for each passenger.

The law went into effect Sept. 1. Six states, including Texas, require seat belts on school buses.

The new law requires three-point seat belts, which include lap and shoulder straps, for each passenger. The requirement only applies to school buses with a model year of 2018 or later, so buses already in service will not have to be retrofitted with seat belts.

The Lake Travis ISD board of trustees tacked $1.3 million onto its Nov. 7 $253 million bond referendum to retrofit existing school buses with seat belts, said Johnny Hill, the district’s assistant superintendent of business, financial and auxiliary services. The new buses purchased through the bond will also have seat belts included, he said.

“We are obligated to meet the requirements of this new law [on our new buses],” LTISD Superintendent Brad Lancaster said. “We are lucky enough to have the advantage of an upcoming bond election to address adding seat belts [on all buses].”

 

Leander ISD spokesperson Corey Ryan said the district’s proposed
$454 million bond package, also set for the Nov. 7 election, includes
$10.2 million to purchase 88 buses that would be affected by the new law. The district owns 237 buses that are not affected by the law, he said.

“Under the new law, the 88 [school buses will]all include seat belts,” Ryan said.

Eanes ISD spokesperson Claudia McWhorter said the district does not have any plans to add seat belts to its existing fleet of buses at this time and does not plan to purchase any buses in the near future. 

The Legislature passed similar legislation—known as Ashley and Alicia’s law—in 2007. The law was named after two students who died in a bus crash in Houston in 2006. The law required state reimbursement for the purchase of school buses with seat belts, but few districts applied for funding.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, authored the 2017 bill and said in a statement that the law will make an impact on child safety.

“Safety experts, EMS professionals and common sense tell us that children need to be buckled up,” she stated. “We’ve put this off for too long on our school buses. We need every Texas child to be safe on the way to and from school.”

In 2015, a Houston ISD school bus went over the side of an overpass in southeast Houston and fell, killing two students. Citing past student deaths on school buses, supporters of the law said it will help prevent fatalities and injuries from school bus crashes.

Opponents argued that it would place an unfunded mandate on school districts.

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Nicholas Cicale
Nick was born in Long Island, New York and grew up in South Florida. He graduated from Florida State University in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in writing and a minor in music. Nick was a journalist for three years at the St. James Plaindealer in Minnesota before moving to Austin to join Community Impact Newspaper in 2016.
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