State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver on Wednesday called a bill that would require seat belts on Tennessee school buses “emotionally-driven” and “bad policy.”
Weaver (R-Lancaster) made her comments when the proposed legislation was brought before the House Education Administration and Planning Committee.
The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) and in the Senate by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga). It comes in the aftermath of a Chattanooga school bus crash in November in which six children were killed and others injured. Bus driver Johnthony Walker was charged with vehicular homicide. Police say Walker was speeding when the bus crashed into a tree and flipped over.
Weaver said requiring seat belts could lead to more deaths as a result of little children not being able to work themselves out of their restraints, especially if a bus caught fire or ended up in water.
“This is a very dangerous bill,” Weaver said.
The bill originally called for any bus purchased starting July 2018 to be equipped with a restraint system and required any bus currently in use to have seat belts by July 2023. The bill was later amended to require only buses purchased starting July 2019 to have seat belts.
Because the Education Administration and Planning Committee was short on time Wednesday morning, members voted to continue discussion of the bill next week.
Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) said that no school superintendents or school board members have contacted legislators to oppose the bill.
But Weaver said she has heard from school bus drivers in her district and that they’re the ones on the front lines. She said their job is hard enough and that making them responsible for helping children out of seat belts in case of an accident would add to the pressure they’re under, she said.
Weaver said she’s also concerned about the costs of purchasing all new buses with seat belts. She said that her district often buys used school buses.
The committee did pass on Wednesday a bill that would allow districts to install cameras on school buses to catch drivers going past school bus stop arm signs.