Trenton – In an effort to ensure student safety when traveling to and from school, the Senate approved two bills sponsored by Senator Joseph Lagana and Senator Patrick Diegnan, which would prevent bad actor bus companies from being awarded school bussing contracts, hinder the hiring of unqualified individuals as drivers and increase transparency.
“We made great strides to raise the safety standards required of our drivers and buses in a previous bill package,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “However, far too often, there are cases where bus companies have been cited for poor practices and then continue operating under different names. Not only are these companies evading consequences, but they are continually putting our students at risk, and it is imperative that we immediately revise the current standards so these hiring practices cease to occur. Today we advanced a bill package that would increase accountability and make our kids safer.”
The first bill, S-3849, would require the Department of Education to provide for the debarment of school bus contractors for certain violations. The bill also amends current law to require a bid for a pupil transportation contract to identify each person who has any ownership interest in the company submitting the bid and to require a board of education to review the debarment list prior to awarding a pupil transportation contract.
Under current law, a board of education must accept the lowest responsible bid for a pupil transportation contract. The bill would allow a board of education to reject bids from companies with ownership interests by debarred individuals.
“I must commend Senator Lagana for sponsoring this needed legislation,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex), Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This package of bills will help protect our children on their way to and from school. Bus companies that don’t follow the rules should not be protected. Districts are now empowered to deny contracts to bad actors.”
A second bill, S-3852, would revise the current violations and fines for knowingly or unknowingly approving or assigning unauthorized individuals as school bus drivers. Under the bill, the fines associated with this action would increase to a $5,000 maximum fine for the first offense, a $10,000 maximum fine for the second offense, and a $15,000 maximum fine for a third offense and each subsequent offense.
The bills were approved by the Senate with votes of 38-0 and 37-0.