Trenton – In an effort to ensure student safety when traveling to and from school, the Senate Transportation Committee approved three bills sponsored by Senators Joseph Lagana and 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 State Board of Education to provide for 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.
A second bill, S-3851, would create the School Bus Safety Ombudsman position in, but not of, the Department of Education to monitor and administer all school bus safety and oversight activities.
Under the bill, the School Bus Safety Ombudsman would be responsible for overseeing school bus operations, with responsibilities including but not limited to, reviewing bus drivers credentials and driving history, determining if a board of education has approved or assigned an unauthorized bus driver, and maintaining a list of persons debarred from serving as a school bus driver.
“I must commend Senator Lagana for sponsoring this needed legislation,” said Senator Diegnan (D-Middlesex), Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “The package of bills go a long way in protecting 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 third 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 all released from committee by votes of 6-0.