UPDATE: Seat belts on school buses bill moves forward with chang - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Seat belts on school buses bill moves forward with changes

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE:  A proposal to put seat belts on Tennessee school buses is one step closer to becoming law. 

Parents affected by the deadly Woodmore bus crash returned to Nashville on Tuesday, as the bill received a positive recommendation from state lawmakers in the House Government Operations Committee.

This committee could only give the bill either a positive, neutral, or negative recommendation. They could not kill it.

"It's one of those issues that it is worth waiting for," Alexandrya Frazier whose daughter was hurt in the crash said.

Boarding a charter bus bound for Nashville has become routine for Alexandrya Frazier. Her daughter was hurt in the Woodmore crash last fall.

She says following the bill to put seat belts on school buses is tiring.

"I just wish they'd hurry up and do what they gotta do so it can be over, said, and done with because in a sense, it's like reliving this day all over again," Frazier said.

The bill has jumped several hurdles in the state legislature including changes to address safety and cost.

On Tuesday, the House Government Operations Committee Chairman proposed another change.

"What is important to me and the district I represent, all 3 counties, is to make sure they're not saddled with the financial responsibility," State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby said.

That responsibility being a shared cost of $15 million per year between the state and local school systems.

The cost would kick in after July of 2019 for any new school buses.

State Rep. Faison's amendment would make sure state funding is secure before local school systems are asked to pay up.

The bill moving through the state legislature is giving family members affected by the crash hope. That's why Ashley Allen, the aunt of Cor'Dayja Jones, keeps boarding a bus from Chattanooga to Nashville. 

"Because I made my niece a promise that I was going to do whatever it takes to try and get safety on the buses or keep Woodmore 6 names alive," Allen said.

The bill now heads to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee.

The proposal would need to pass that committee and two more before it heads to the House floor for a vote.


UPDATE: The school bus seat belt bill has passed the House Education, Administration, and Planning Committee and will move to the Government Operations Committee.

State lawmakers in the Government Operations Committee are expected to vote next week.

For several weeks, those affected by the Woodmore crash have made the trip to the state capitol.

They've sat through long debates and seen close votes. With each committee the bill clears, they say they have hope it will become law.

The vote was taken with little debate.

"It was a complete victory for everybody, not just for Chattanooga, everybody in the future that will ride the bus. She's emotional, but she's victorious today," Coretta Bowman, a supporter said.

Coretta Bowman was comforting Ashley Allen who lost her niece, Cor'Dayja Jones, in the Woodmore bus crash last fall. Both support the idea to put seat belts on new school buses after July of 2019.

Some question if the bill has a chance to make it for a full house vote before the end of the legislative session. 

"I feel that people love children and I feel that the legislators in this general assembly want to do what is best for the children," State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga.

It would cost $15 million per year for the state and local school systems.

State Rep. JoAnne Favors says it could have a lower price tag than that. Originally, new school buses would lose 12 seats to make room for the belts. Now, Favors says it will only be two.

Cost has been a concern before, but that wasn't the case in this committee. 

"I do not see how we're going to get little children in kindergarten, first, or second graders and I am a grandmother out of a bus on fire if it's on its side and they're hung in a seat belt," State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster said.

Last week, State Rep. Weaver called the bill dangerous. Weaver said she didn't plan to speak up on Tuesday.

"I don't think this is a good piece of legislation. I think it is based on emotion any piece of legislation that's based on emotion is usually not good policy," Weaver said.

Cor'Dayja Jones' aunt said comments like that upset her.

"If she got grandkids, she ought to be with emotion. She ought to be with it, but she's not. She's against it and it doesn't make sense," Ashley Allen, Cor'Dayja Jones' aunt said.

Allen and other supporters are also focusing on the positives they saw in the committee room.

If the bill were to pass in the Government Operations committee it will go to the Finance, Ways, and Means committee, then to the Calendar and Rules committee, and then to the House floor for a vote before heading to Governor Haslam's desk.

State lawmakers will have to work fast because the legislative session could wrap up as early as next month.


PREVIOUS STORY: The vote on whether children will need to buckle up on new school buses in Tennessee will have to wait until next week.

State lawmakers ran out of time to talk about the idea on Wednesday.

They had around 10 minutes to talk about the proposal and in that short time, some were critical of the bill.

"It's a bad bill because i think we're going to have more lives lost should this thing pass," State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, (R) Lancaster said.

Not holding back any punches, State Rep. Weaver made her opinion clear.   

She's been a vocal opponent of the bill from the beginning and believes seat belts on school buses will only cause more harm. Weaver points to extreme situations like a bus catching fire or going underwater.

"Little children's seat belts on with their gloves and their mittens and their stuff and their backpacks, they will not get out of these buses and we will look back and say 'what the heck were we thinking?," State Rep. Weaver said.

Since 2009, Tennessee Department of Safety officials said school bus crashes have killed 10 children and one adult.

State Rep. JoAnne Favors believes this will be the year the Tennessee legislature passes a seat belts on school buses bill. She thinks they'll make a difference.

"That's too many. That's too many. If seat belts will prevent the deaths, that's too many," State Rep. JoAnne Favors, (D) Chattanooga said.

She's proposing that school buses bought or ordered after July of 2019 have seat belts.

Local school systems and the state would have to share the cost of $15 million per year. The idea comes on the heels of the Woodmore crash that killed six children last fall.

Some critics believe the bill is emotionally driven, but Favors said that's not the case. She's optimistic the bill will receive enough votes next week.

"Sometimes you have an assignment that you didn't realize you were going to have and I feel like this is mine. I'm trusting god to give me the direction and to place on the hearts of my colleagues to pass this bill," State Rep. Favors said.

State lawmakers decided to vote on the bill next Tuesday when they have more time to talk about the idea.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for more details on this developing story.


PREVIOUS STORY: The seat belts on school buses bill narrowly passed in the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday. The vote was 9-7.

There were calls from state lawmakers to hold onto the bill until next year, but the committee decided to move forward and give the proposal enough votes.

"This is to save everyone's child, not just my grandbaby. Everyone's child. It's a hurting feeling to know a lot of those people that are representatives of this state of Tennessee said no," Selbrea Rhodes, the grandmother of a child hurt in last November's crash said.

Rhodes said she originally wasn't on board with putting seat belts on school buses. That changed when her granddaughter was involved in a terrible crash last November that killed six children.

A bill in the Tennessee legislature would require seat belts on any new buses purchased or ordered after July of 2019.

Some state lawmakers questioned whether children would be able to unbuckle in time if there was an emergency.

"If there was a fire, how long would it take to unclip every one of these children and the second question is, how do you control these children and to make sure they're buckled up in the first place?," State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton said.

An official from the Tennessee Department of Safety said there are four to five bus fires a year. Most don't have kids on board.

He told committee members there are far more crashes.

Since 2009, the official said crashes killed 10 children and 1 adult. Most were because of driver error.

If the idea became law, grandparents like Rhodes argued children would listen and buckle up.

"If you keep putting on that child, stay in your seat belt. Stay in your seat belt. Eventually, as soon as they get in the car, they're going to step in their seat belt. You got to train them the way you want them to grow up," Rhodes said.

After an hour of debate, the committee voted in favor of the proposal.

It was emotional for both the bill's sponsor and the parents who traveled from Chattanooga.

"It's just overwhelming. It really lets us know that those lives were not lost in vein," State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga said.

State lawmakers mentioned to supporters the bill may have a tough time in the next committee, but they said they're ready.

"We have to keep fighting. We have to keep fighting," Rhodes said.

The proposal will cost around $15 million per year. That's down from an estimated cost of $82 million per year when the bill required current buses to add seat belts by 2023.

The cost will be shared between the state and local school systems.

The bill will be heard next in the House Education, Administration, and Planning Committee.

The Senate will take up its version of the proposal on Wednesday.

Stay with Channel 3 as this story develops. 


PREVIOUS STORY: New numbers are out revealing a cheaper option for putting seat belts on school buses if a bill passes making it mandatory.  

A new proposal will exclude all buses purchased or ordered before July of 2019 drastically reducing the cost.

To retrofit all the school buses in the state, it would have cost around $82 million per year.

Channel 3 obtained the Fiscal Memorandum memo for HB 395 – SB 381, which explains the details of the funding.

Removal of the retrofitting provision for school buses currently in service drops the price tag of the bill to around $15 million dollars per year.

The bill will cost $12,915,400 in local expenditures beginning in the 2019-20 fiscal year and $15,065,800 in the 2019-20 fiscal year in state and local expenditures.

Each year about 600 Tennessee school buses are retired. A replacement costs about $100,000 without seat belts.

Add the belts and you're looking at an additional $10,000 per bus.

State Representative JoAnne Favors first wanted all buses retrofitted by 2023, which some considered a pricey option.

A change to the bill would only require buses purchased after July of 2019 to come with seat belts.

It's a savings that could impact the future of the bill and how school districts do business. 

A study shows seat belts would limit how many students can be on board and force districts to have more buses.

Seven of Hamilton County's 49 owner operator buses will be replaced this year, some with spares. On average, these buses are 14 years old. 

Durham, which owns the rest of the school system's fleet, has no plans to purchase any new buses this year. On average, Durham buses are 7 years old.

Under the proposed seat belt bill, these buses would be grandfathered in and likely be on the road for a few more years without belts. 

In Tennessee, school buses can stay on the road until they're 15 years old.

Owners can apply for an extension and have the bus inspected to stay on the road another three years. Buses any older have to have less than 200,000 miles and two inspections per year. 

The House Transportation Committee and the Senate Education Committee will be taking up the bill on Tuesday.

Channel 3 will have a crew in Nashville for the committee hearing.


PREVIOUS STORY: Rep. Joanne Favors has signed an amendment to TN House Bill 395 that would change the original bill's language to remove the option of retrofitting existing buses with seat belts.

Buses ordered or purchased on or after July 1, 2019 and used to transport students will be required to have restraint systems (seat belts) that comply with standards from the National Transportation Safety Boards for passengers and drivers.


PREVIOUS STORY: A proposal to put seat belts on school buses will have to wait another week before Tennessee lawmakers decide its fate.

On Tuesday, Rep. JoAnne Favors requested that the House Transportation Committee roll the bill.

Last week, House Transportation Subcommittee members brought up safety concerns and the cost, but decided to push the bill forward.

Seat belts on school buses have been up for debate for years. A bill moving through the state legislature is reigniting the conversation.

"It's gonna be an expensive option and also it's gonna be in my opinion a more dangerous option with seat belts than without," Jerry Green, a school bus contractor said.

State Rep. JoAnne Favors' bill would require school buses bought after July 1st of 2018 to have seat belts. Current buses would need them by July of 2023.

Jerry Green, an independent contractor for Hamilton County Schools, said besides the price tag of more than $400 million over the next five years, this brings other challenges too.

"It's gonna be difficult because you've got to evacuate real quick in case of a fire," Green said.

A fiscal impact study shows a new bus on average costs $100,000 and adding seat belts would be about $10,000.

Officials with some major bus manufacturers like Blue Bird said modifying buses could become a safety issue.

Channel 3 obtained a letter from the company to the Tennessee Highway Patrol from December of 2016.

The company said it's impossible for them to certify or approve buses that weren't originally built with seat belts.

"It's sad it takes a tragedy for people to open their eyes to see that these kids should come first all the time," Stephanie Griffith, a parent affected by the Woodmore crash said last week.

Mothers like Stephanie Griffith traveled to the state capitol last week. Her son was hurt in last November's bus crash.

She supports the bill and believes it could make a difference.

"Just keeping these babies safe. Keeping them safe," Griffith said.

However, those behind the wheel like Green aren't so sure seat belts are the solution.

"The only thing that concerns me for safety is the people around the bus driving their cars," Green said.

House Transportation Committee members will be taking up the bill next Tuesday at 1:30 CST.

Count on Channel 3 to keep you updated on this developing story.


PREVIOUS STORY: Parents and children from Chattanooga traveled to Nashville to make their case for seat belts on school buses after the deadly Woodmore crash that happened last November.

State lawmakers in the House Transportation Subcommittee gave the bill the green light on Wednesday.

"I don't know what I'd do without my babies, any of these babies," Stephanie Griffith, a parent said.

Her son, Darrian, was hurt last November. He's yet to ride a school bus since that day.

Griffith felt it was important to bring him to the state capitol.

"This is for them. If it wasn't for this, I don't think it would have made it this far and it's sad it takes a tragedy for the people to open their eyes and see that these kids should come first all the time," Griffith said.

A lengthy agenda for the House Transportation Subcommittee meant state lawmakers only had a few minutes to talk about the proposal.

It would require school buses bought after July 1 to have seat belts and those on the road now would would them by July of 2023.

The cost was a concern for some, but the subcommittee looked at other potential issues too.

"Buses running over into water, fires, things that would happen exponentially quick. How are these seat belts going to prevent a child from not being able to get out?," State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster said.

The subcommittee decided to push the bill forward. Emotions ran high after the vote.

"Anything that we can do, any law that we can enact that would prevent something like this happening again in the future is well worth the expense," State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga said.

Those who made the trip see this first step as good news, but they say it won't erase the pain they're still experiencing.

Ashley Allen's niece, Cor'Dayja Jones, was killed in the crash.

"People don't understand that I literally look at my sister like that for the rest of our life. My niece is supposed to be burying me, not me burying her," Allen said.

The bill will now move onto the full House Transportation Committee.

State Rep. Favors said it could be taken up as early as next week.


PREVIOUS STORY: Concerned parents will be making a trip to Nashville on Wednesday to push for seat belts on school buses. This is after six children died and dozens of others were hurt in the Woodmore bus crash in November.   

State lawmakers will be taking up the proposal in the House Transportation Subcommittee.

Knocking on doors and stuffing flyers in mailboxes, Alexandrya Frazier is determined to get as many parents as possible to Nashville.

She wants seat belts on school buses. Her 11-year-old daughter, Nae Nae, was on the Woodmore bus that crashed last November.

Frazier said her daughter's wrist was fractured and she suffered a concussion.

"We're going to show the legislators that we have sat down and taken our children not being safe long enough," Alexandrya Frazier said.

A bill sponsored by State Representative JoAnne Favors would require school buses bought after July 1st of 2018 to have seat belts. Buses on the road right now would need to add them by July of 2023.

"The safety of our kids is paramount and we just have to make sure it does not happen again because if not, the deaths of the kids and the injuries to the kids was all in vein," Attorney C. Mark Warren said.

Warren represents several of the families affected by the Woodmore crash including Frazier.

The Warren & Griffin law firm is giving parents who want to hear the bill debated a ride on a charter bus to Nashville.

The bus will be leaving from the Woodmore Elementary School parking lot at 9:30 a.m.

Parents like Frazier are expected to speak before state lawmakers.

"They really can't understand it unless they've been there. I know I did not lose my child and my heart goes out to each and every parent that did, but in a way you did because for Woodmore being a small school, it's like we're all one big family," Frazier said.

Safety doesn't come without a price.

A report from the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee estimates the bill will cost about $82 million per year over the next five years.

A price Frazier says is worth it.

"It shouldn't be an expense put on the life of a child," Frazier said.

People against seat belts on school buses say it's too expensive and think buses are already built to be safe.

If the bill passes, it will head to the full House Transportation Committee.

State lawmakers will also be debating whether the age required to drive a school bus should be raised from 21 to 25.

Channel 3 will have a crew in the subcommittee room and provide updates throughout the day on Wednesday.

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